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Much has been written about the threat that China's upstart car
manufacturers poses to established car giants in Asia and the west.

Nevertheless, its good to read an opinion by an automotive industry hack who really knows his stuff. David Leggett, in this
posting on the excellent Just-Auto.com site, seeks to answer the
oft-posed question “just how good is manufacturing quality in China
these days?”

A decade ago, Leggett says the quality of Chinese-made vehicles was
terrible. But as the local market was not particularly demanding, it
did not matter too much.

But that was the early days, before the stampede of foreign OEMs and
their suppliers into China. Quality standards have undoubtedly risen
and the industry has developed at a rapid pace, he says.

And yet, there are still obvious shortcomings, particularly when it
comes to the quality of precision engineering products from local
suppliers. Perhaps there are “political pressures” at work in Chinese
JVs, Leggett ventures, which mean quality takes second place to cost
savings or productivity. He says:

For all the assurances from companies in China that Chinese output
meets international quality standards, there's just a suspicion that
actually maybe it doesn't. It's a sensitive area, for sure, and it
becomes even more so once the Chinese stuff gets exported.”

The issue of quality is in the news because Honda's Chinese JV with Guangzhou Automobile Corp has just announced a recall
of almost 500,000 vehicles — a record to date — due to potential
problems with the power steering and oil pumps. Two months earlier,
Honda's other JV, with Dongfeng Motor Corp, had to recall almost 50,000
vehicles due to shock absorber defects.

Through its two JVs, Honda sold more than 55,000 vehicles in China
in the first two months of this year, up 50% on the year-earlier same
period.

Across China's industry as a whole, more than 350,000 vehicles were
recalled last year and quality has become a growing concern for car
buyers. China's state-owned TV website bluntly blamed the recalls
on price wars in the intensely competitive domestic market, saying they
had “taken a toll on quality”. Leggett says of the Honda recall:

Along with other recalls, maybe it's just a sign of China's growing
pains and pressures to cut costs lately. Even if that is so, Chinese
manufacturing quality is sure to be under very close scrutiny as the
industry's output and international presence grows over the next few
years.”

UPDATE: It looks as if Honda's China recall is for a problem that
affects cars made in other countries not just China. Yesterday it announced
it recall of around 165,000 vehicles in the US for the same problem —
leaking sealant. So, some of China's quality issues may be designed in
at the drawing board, rather than due to corners being cut on the shop
floor.


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