brillance-adac.jpgThe safety record of French products has taken quite a battering this month. First, its was the Airbus pitot tubes, made by France's Thales Group, which got the blame for the recent crash of Air France Flight 447.

Now Renault's vehicles are deemed to be too dangerous to drive — at least in China.

China has turned back 160 Renault cars built in 2007 from import, saying they do not meet government safety guidelines. The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said the cars pose “serious potential safety risks.”

The irony of China damning one of the world's best-known car brands for safety problems has not gone unnoticed by the western automotive press.

While the Laguna, Scenic and Megane have all gained five stars in the Euro NCAP tests, China's Brilliance BS4 (pictured) recently earned no points at all in the same tests — even the airbag was found to be in a dangerous position.

The French carmaker said the problems, which affect Laguna, Scenic and Megane models, were caused during the transport and storage phases rather than manufacturing and only affect a limited number of cars.

Nevertheless, no information has been made public on the the safety problems uncovered by the Chinese inspectors .

Even if the vehicles in question had been in storage for a long time, it is difficult to imagine just what could have happened to them to compromise safety in what is effectively a brand-new car.

The case has parallels with last year's milk contamination scandal when another French company, Danone, had to defend its safety reputation.

Several Chinese milk products companies were found to be selling milk contaminated with melamine, a toxic chemical, and rumours circulated that western food brands were also contaminated.

Cadburys, the UK confectionery group, withdrew its Made in China chocolate as a precautionary measure after some products were indeed found to contain melamine.

Danone had to fight a damage limitation exercise to convince Chinese consumers that its infant formula was not affected.

Earlier this year, the Shanghai government cleared the French company and Danone insists that its sales were not affected by the scandal.

Nevertheless, western companies know that the years spent building up their brand in China can be destroyed overnight if they are seen to be complacent or insensitive to these scare stories, whether they are justified or not.

So, a suitably humbled Renault has just put out an announcement apologising for the failure and offering free test services for Chinese consumers worried about their Renault cars.

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