Saturday 8 February 2014

Aston Martin and the case of the counterfeit parts

 Aston Martin produces some of the world's most highly engineered cars, and its reputation stands on the quality of those vehicles. That the company has to recall the majority of vehicles it has made since 2007 is a shock.

The recall is due to a faulty accelerator pedal arm, many of which have broken. Tests by Aston Martin have revealed the source of the problem: rather than made from PA 6 supplied by DuPont, as the company had specified, the part was produced from counterfeit plastic.

This highlights one of the main challenges of dealing with a globalised automotive industry according to Dr. Brian Balmer, industry principal for performance materials at Frost & Sullivan. He has 10 years market expertise, with a focus on performance materials.

Aston Martin, which assembles vehicles in the UK at Gaydon, Oxfordshire, and is part-owned by Kuwaiti investors, had selected a company to supply these parts. The car making company was owned by Ford Motor Company and formed part of its Premier Automotive group (PAG).

The supplier, in Hong Kong, in turn appointed a trade moulder in mainland China to mould the part. This business purchased the polymer from a local Chinese supplier. The polymer material used supposedly was PA 6 from DuPont.

The tests undertaken by Aston Martin showed that this material was not from DuPont as the packaging suggested. In fact it was not even PA 6, it was PA 6,6.

Understandably, Aston Martin has decided to return the moulding of the part back to the UK as soon as possible.

The market for polyamides in the Chinese automotive industry is dominated by the main global manufacturers, although there is also a market for locally-produced materials. DuPont is the market leader, with a market share of around 28 percent. Local Chinese manufacturers have a combined share of around 10 percent of the market.

The requirement to supply the same grade of material to OEM's across all regions of the world is a critical success factor for polymer companies supplying the automotive industry, so any move in the part’s production process from China to the UK will be easily accommodated by DuPont.

According to Frost & Sullivan's latest research, the market for compounded polyamide engineering plastic in the Chinese automotive industry in 2013 was worth more than $1 billion. In volume terms, China accounts around 28% of global demand. This is somewhat ahead of the share taken by China of global car manufacturing, suggesting that there is a market for export of Chinese-moulded parts to OEMs in other regions.

The issue of counterfeiting has affected major brands in other markets too, so it is up to individual vehicle manufacturers to monitor and remain vigilant, and assess methods of staying one step ahead to protect brand image.

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