A good reputation takes time to build and can be lost in a second. Chinese tire manufacturers may soon find this out.
The NHTSA-ordered recall of 450,000 light truck tires made by China's Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co. Ltd. has the potential to stall the growth of that nation as an exporter of tires to the U.S. This is a very poor time in history for a Chinese tire maker to have its quality standards, even its response to a problem, questioned.
The issue concerns several tire brands sold in the U.S., many of them brought in by importer Foreign Tire Sales Inc. of Union, N.J. That company told NHTSA the tires were made without or with insufficient gum strips between the belts to prevent belt separation.
The importer-which claims the recall could bankrupt it-charges that Hangzhou Zhongce changed the tires' design unilaterally and is not providing information needed for a recall to be conducted. Foreign Tire Sales also charges the Chinese company withheld some needed documents, calling them proprietary and confidential.
For its part, Hangzhou Zhongce, a $1 billion company that employs 8,000, mostly has been mum on the subject.
The worst nightmare for a tire manufacturer already has begun-the issue has become political. Four senators have asked President Bush to intervene; a well-known plaintiff's attorney is ``on the case''; and the event is getting national attention.
The U.S. public already is hypersensitive about tire failure, following the Ford Explorer/Firestone light truck tire disaster. Hangzhou Zhongce need only look at what it cost Bridgestone/Firestone and its parent, Bridgestone Corp., to resolve that problem to see what can happen.
And those tires were U.S.-made.
Hangzhou Zhongce must face the growing American prejudice against made-in-China goods, following incidents of contaminated pet food, lead paint on toys and poisoned toothpaste, and the loss of jobs to the growing manufacturing powerhouse.
Hangzhou Zhongce is the company under fire, but the flames can touch any tire producer in China. The manufacturer needs to address the issue, and quickly, unless it wants to see its reputation go up in smoke.