Aston Martin's Almost Total Recall

By David Bailey on Feb 5, 14 09:58 PM in

Gaydon-based Aston Martin, makers of sports cars for the rich and cool (and a secret agent by the name of James Bond of course), recently announced that it is recalling most of its sports cars built since late 2007 after discovering a Chinese sub-supplier was using counterfeit plastic material in a part supplied to the firm.

Aston Martin is recalling around 17,600 cars according to a report by Reuters. That's tiny in car industry terms but huge for a small firm that makes just a few thousand cars a year. The recall includes all of its left-hand-drive models built since November 2007 and all right-hand-drive models built since May 2012, affecting about 75% of the sports cars made in that period.

Aston Martin had discovered that Shenzhen Kexiang Mould Tool Co Ltd, a Chinese subcontractor that moulds accelerator pedal arms, was using counterfeit plastic materials supplied by Synthetic Plastic Raw Material Co Ltd, based in the city of Dongguan (near Guangzhou), according to documents filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the United States.

The cars are being recalled from model years 2008 through 2014 because the accelerator pedal arm may break, increasing the risk of a crash, according to the documents filed with the NHTSA.

A spokesperson for Aston Martin stated that there had been no reports of accidents or any injuries related to the fault and the financial impact to the car maker was small. It also stressed that the fault had been identified and was easy to fix.

The latter is critical as drivers are often quite forgiving if the fault can be identified and fixed speedily. Toyota's huge recall problem a few years ago was in part because it just dragged on and on and Toyota was not seen as getting a grip nearly quickly enough. So as long as Aston Martin deal with the problem speedily there isn't likely to be long term brand damage.

And yet. There is clearly a calculation for firms in looking at sourcing components around the world in search of low costs, and in then sharing those components across models to get costs right down. But that leaves firms vulnerable when things go wrong as it's not just one model affected but rather a whole product range. We saw this in dramatic style a few years ago with Toyota, and now on a much smaller scale with Aston.

The Aston Martin website uses the words 'iconic', 'exclusive' and 'luxury' to describe its models. Indeed, the brand - regularly voted one of the coolest around - oozes class, sophistication and quality.

So it seems a bit odd that the firm is sourcing plastic accelerator arms from China when the local supply chain could probably do it almost as cheaply and no doubt with better quality control.

Aston Martin stated recently that it aims to source more components in the UK. Given this particular component failure, 'bring it home' seems the over-riding message for Aston Martin.

In so doing it could gain a 'feel good' factor amongst potential customers given the 'made in Britain' quality mark, and avoid such quality issues in the future. And of course, it could be a boost for the local supply chain.

Professor David Bailey works at the Aston Business School in Birmingham.

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