China's product safety reputation took another hit today, as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission announced a recall of 23,000 Chinese vehicles made by Great Wall and Chery. The vehicles have engine and exhaust gaskets that contain asbestos, a known carcinogen that is prohibited in Australia. Both manufacturers have been directed to stop selling the affected vehicles, and owners have been warned not to perform any do-it-yourself repairs that involve the problem gaskets.
The recall raises questions about Chinese automakers plans to increase exports, not only to Australia but Europe and potentially even the United States. Yet a spokesman for Great Wall told Bloomberg that the recall "won't have much impact on our export and overseas expansion plans." Scroll down to read the full statement from the ACCC..
How the asbestos-containing parts came to be used in the Australian cars is unclear, but a Chery spokesman told the news agency that the automaker made a mistake, building the cars with a batch of parts that were not intended for use in export cars. But an Australian public affairs official indicated that the recall affects a majority of the vehicles the two Chinese automakers have imported.
Great Wall began exporting vehicles to Australia in 2009 and Chery followed in 2011, according to the report. Combined, they sold just over 17,000 vehicles in Australia between 2010-2011. Models affected by the recall include the Great Wall SA220, V240, X240, V200 and X200 (pictured), as well as the Chery J11 and J3.
ACCC issues alert about asbestos in car gaskets
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is monitoring a recall of approximately 23,000 Great Wall and Chery motor vehicles with engine and exhaust gaskets containing asbestos. The Chery J1 model and newly imported stock of both brands are unaffected by the recall.
The asbestos is bound into gaskets in the engine and exhaust system and does not present any risk to consumers during use of the vehicle. However, consumers should not perform do-it-yourself maintenance that might disturb these gaskets.
ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said, "Asbestos is a prohibited hazardous substance and these engines and exhaust systems should only be worked on by qualified personnel using appropriate safety procedures."
Instructed all Chery and Great Wall dealers to 'stop sale' of affected vehicles
Recalled gaskets that were distributed as spare parts
Ensured all newly supplied cars and replacement gaskets are asbestos-free
Arranged to directly advise car owners that gaskets should be replaced by authorised mechanics when replacement is required
Arranged for warning stickers to be placed in the engine bay of affected cars
Ensured that warnings and instructions for the safe handling and disposal of gaskets are provided with all spare parts that include an affected gasket
Prepared a safety training video and other materials for automotive repairers.
"The automotive service industry is experienced in managing this risk, as cars sold in Australia before 2004 often had gaskets that contained asbestos," Ms Rickard said. "However, consumers and automotive repairers must be made aware that the risk may be present in these much newer vehicles. This is the focus of the recall campaign."
"All affected consumers will be contacted directly by Great Wall and Chery. In addition, they will provide training, warning stickers and safety advice to repairers. The ACCC will monitor the recall and Workplace Health and Safety Authorities will monitor the workplace safety issues," Ms Rickard said.
Customs and Border Protection officers detected asbestos in imported spare parts, triggering a safety investigation also involving the WorkCover Authority of NSW, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, the ACCC and the supplier of the cars, Ateco Automotive Pty Ltd.
If car owners have concerns about the presence of affected gaskets in their Great Wall cars they should contact customer service on 1-800-114672 and 1-800-359456 for advice about Chery vehicles, to arrange for replacement of the affected gaskets.
The importation or use of asbestos has been prohibited in Australia since 2004. Consumers with other older vehicles are therefore also advised to take precautions when performing do-it-yourself maintenance that might disturb gaskets. A work safety guidance note is available from www.worksafe.vic.gov.au.
Consumers can find more details about this and other recalls at www.recalls.gov.au.
More information on product safety and the mandatory safety standards can be found at www.productsafety.gov.au. You can also follow product safety at the ACCC on Twitter: @ProductSafetyAU.