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Counterfeit plastic material at the heart of another vehicle recall

Honestly, you'd think that these big automotive companies would have learned their lesson by now after hearing these stories from other companies, but like my mother used to tell me, "everyone has to learn their own lessons." Now Aston Martin is learning the price of their mistake of making critical automotive parts in China.

On Wednesday the company issued a recall on 17,590 cars due to counterfeit plastic material being used to injection mold accelerator pedal arms in the company's "luxury" sports cars built since late 2007 (the left-hand drive side) and right-hand drive models built since May 2012.

The recall was triggered by a report from a dealer in Connecticut early December that a replacement pedal arm that was being fitted broke during the installation process. That's when the company discovered that "counterfeit DuPont plastic material" was being used by the molder, Kexiang Mould Tool Co Ltd, a Chinese subcontractor. I'll bet DuPont was thrilled to hear that news!

A spokeswoman for Aston Martin, whom Reuters interviewed, said that the company plans to shift production of the pedal arms from China to the United Kingdom as soon as possible this year.

Of course this isn't the first time that "counterfeit" plastic materials have been used to injection mold parts - it happens all the time. Typically, the OEMs who are having parts and products molded in China don't find out about it until the product is in use or the parts fail in the field - an especially dangerous situation in the case of counterfeit auto parts or parts molded with counterfeit plastics.

I've been writing about this for nearly 20 years, and yet companies are still being forced to learn these very expensive lessons for themselves. I suppose it's the old belief of 'it happens to others but it won't happen to me.' Yeah, sure. They all say that.

Not only is it expensive in terms of the cost to replace these parts or products, but it's expensive in terms of the company's reputation. In manufacturing of consumer goods, a reputation is hard won, and can be destroyed by one bad product. That's expensive to regain once it's been lost. I've often wondered: Is it really more expensive to produce products in the U.S. than it is to recall thousands - or even millions - of parts/products and replace them, and then have to re-brand and regain your reputation? Surely not!

We can now add Aston Martin to the list of companies experiencing costs of manufacturing in China.

Not that bad plastic materials aren't found elsewhere. I was called by a local molder one time years ago to come to his facility and take a look at some "prime regrind" he purchased from a resin broker. The 1,000 lb. Gaylord of material contained - in addition to reground resin chips - shredded Mexican newspapers, banana peels and lunch leftovers. Nice!

Material lot traceability is becoming more and more critical in today's global molding environment. Knowing where your materials come from and obtaining genuine "certifications" for the material could save the OEMs from some real monetary damages.

Until Aston Martin can "reshore" the molding of these pedal arms to a UK molder, the company has ceased doing business with Synthetic Plastic Raw Material Co Ltd of Dongguan, according to the NHTSA documents. Aston Martin is now being supplied directly by a DuPont distributor. Both Aston Martin and resin supplier DuPont have posted personnel to China to directly supervise the production of all pedal arms, including verifying each bag of DuPont plastic material.

Perhaps one day these big OEMs will finally learn their lesson and begin recognizing the value of making their products at home - whether that be in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, France or at the very least close to home where the supply chain can be controlled, materials traced, and products built to spec under the watchful eye of quality control personnel.

Let's face it, when it comes to materials, "Lot Traceability" doesn't mean knowing from which factory the plastic floor sweepings were obtained!

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