Crash Dummies on the Volga
- Add another product to the list of Chinese exports whose safety is being called into question: cars. In one of the few crash tests to date of a Chinese–made vehicle outside China, a Chery Amulet sedan’s front end folded like a concertina in a recent trial in Moscow. The Russian car magazine that organized the test said it was one of the worst performances ever and called upon Chery Automobile Co. to withdraw the car from the market.
- —Wall Street Journal
It’s not just agricultural products and low–priced toys and trinkets that consumers have to fear when it comes to the “Made in China” label. As Chinese manufacturers move up the value chain into bigticket items like automobiles and aircraft and top–line pharmaceuticals, a wide range of consumer risks is emerging.
Consider China’s rapidly growing auto industry. It might surprise you to know that China already produces more cars than Detroit once you subtract light trucks and SUVs from the equation. However, unlike U.S.–made cars and the cars coming out of Europe and Japan, the safety of many of the Chinese–branded vehicles is exceedingly low.
For example, as indicated in the preceding excerpt, China’s Chery Amulet totally flunked its Russian crash test. Another typical data point is offered by the performance—or lack thereof—of the Chinese Brilliance BS6 sedan. In a standard European crash test, the BS6 sedan was driven at 40 miles per hour straight into a barrier. As described by analyst Chris Haak, the results were right out of a Ralph Nader nightmare:
- In cars that ace these tests, the passenger compartment stays almost completely intact with no intrusion of the floor into the driver’s foot well or the instrument panel into the driver’s face. The best cars often still have functioning driver’s doors, yet sacrifice so much of their front end absorbing the crash energy that the occupants get out of the car relatively unscathed.
- Instead, the poorly named Brilliance BS6 saw the pedals intrude into the driver’s space by 18 inches, and the dashboard by 7 inches. The driver’s door wouldn’t open without the technicians using a huge crowbar, and the rocker panel bent almost 90º, and stopped only when it hit the floor. The base of the windshield moved to the same vertical plane as the top of the windshield was before the crash, and the driver was left sharing space with the steering wheel, windshield, and the front end of the car. He or she would have almost certainly been killed instantly.
Perhaps the worst aspect of China’s “unsafe at any speed” auto industry is China’s use of both Latin America and Africa as dumping grounds for cheap cars that would pass neither emissions or safety tests in European or U.S. markets. While these cheap cars are very attractive to lower income buyers, they are nothing but rolling deathtraps and pollution factories. Nor are the Chinese particularly coy about this. As Zheng Guoqing, the head of sales to Africa for the Great Wall Motor Co. has soft–pedaled it: “The performance–price ratio of our products is high so African people like our brand. The emissions standard is not particularly high there. The requirement for safety is also not high.”