Monday, March 21, 2011, 00:00

Kumho in drama over

By By Gong Zhengzheng and Han Tianyang

Kumho in drama over

BEIJING — South Korea's Kumho Tires Co, a major supplier for Hyundai, General Motors and Volkswagen's assembly plants in China, used excess recycled rubber in its products at a factory in Tianjin, China Central Television reported on March 15 in a special program for World Consumer Rights Day.

Overuse of recycled rubber can cause bulges or even burst tires, the report said.

In addition to the Tianjin factory, Kumho Tires China also has plants in Nanjing and Changchun with combined annual production capacity of 30 million tires, according to the company's Chinese-language website.

One of the largest tire manufacturers in China, Kumho supplies products for many Sino-foreign car joint ventures including Shanghai GM, FAW Volkswagen, Beijing Hyundai, Dongfeng Yueda Kia and Dongfeng Peugeot Citroen, as well as domestic carmakers FAW Car, Chery Automobile, Great Wall Motors and Hafei Auto.

According to its website, Kumho's products are equipped on 35 car models including top sellers Volkswagen Sagitar and new Golf, the Hyundai Elantra and Sonata, the Peugeot 207, the Chevrolet Spark and Buick Excelle.

The company also said on its website that it aims to have 28 percent of China's passenger vehicle market by 2014.

'Inaccurate report'

Soon after the program was aired, Kumho Tires released a statement saying the CCTV report is "inaccurate". It explained that the proportion of recycled rubber should be calculated by weight, not by quantity.

In the CCTV report, the journalist calculated the ratio by counting the number of recycled rubber sheets and original rubber sheets at the intake area of production lines.

"Our company has formulated scientific and sound manufacturing standards on the use of recycled rubber and our production line is operating strictly in accordance with these standards," the company said in its statement.

Kumho Tires will cooperate with government departments for quality supervision on inspections and give the public a satisfying answer soon, it said.

The company said it already asked the Tianjin Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision to inspect its factory in the city.

It is reported that General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, the nation's top quality watchdog, will also look into the issue and later release its investigation findings.

Shanghai GM said in a statement that the tires used on its products are not made at Kumho's Tianjin plant.

It said that if the customers have concerns, they should go to local GM shops where the company will examine tire quality.

FAW Volkswagen and Chery Automobile gave similar responses and noted that tires on their cars are not made at the Tianjin factory.

Some media reports said Kumho's quality problem has existed for quite some time and many customers have complained.

Two years ago a report from the State quality watchdog said that the administration received 495 complaints on automobile tires in 2008, among them severe cases of bulge problems and sidewall cracks in Kumho tires.

Yet both car dealerships and Kumho refused to repair or exchange the tires for free, according to previous media reports. Dealers said car tires are consumables while Kumho said the problem was caused by improper operation of cars.

Customers can only reply on appraisals offered by tire makers themselves due to the inconvenience in finding an independent, authoritative testing organization, analysts said.

Outdated standards

The national standards on tire quality are outdated, analysts said, with current tire quality guidelines issued in 1997.

Europe and the US adjusted the testing standards on tire quality in 2007, raising the testing speed to 160 km/h from the previous 137 km/h and increasing the endurance test to more than 4,000 km from the former 3,000 km.

According to a local newspaper, two lawyers in the Huicheng Law Group in Beijing have started to search for customers nationwide damaged by faulty Kumho tires and plans to defend their rights through a collective lawsuit.

The incident also rings the alarm bell for auto manufacturers to strengthen their own quality control systems on parts and components, analysts said.

Market industry insiders said the State quality supervision administration has withdrawn certification from Kumho, which would cause production halt for some car models.

One affected automaker is also said to be urgently trying to find ways to cope with the emergency, without specifying the company.

The quality watchdog has not responded to the posts.