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China-Made Tires Are Subject Of Lawsuit After Fatal Accident

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Wall Street Journal

China-Made Tires Are Subject

Of Lawsuit After Fatal Accident

By TIMOTHY AEPPEL

June 25, 2007 1:02 p.m.

A recent lawsuit arising from a fatal auto accident in Pennsylvania is pointing toward another potentially hazardous Chinese import, this time tires.

The accident occurred last August, when a steel-belted radial on a cargo van carrying four passengers allegedly experienced a tread separation -- the type of problem that prompted the big Firestone recall of 2000 -- causing the driver to loose control and crash. Two passengers were killed, the two others injured, one severely.

The tire's U.S. distributor -- Foreign Tire Sales Inc. of Union, N.J., says that it discovered a safety feature it had specifically asked the manufacturer to include was omitted from up to 450,000 of the tires imported from China's Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co. since 2002. FTS has notified federal safety officials that a recall may be necessary and that it believes other U.S. distributors have been selling identical tires, which could account for up to another half a million tires.

Unlike other potential recalls involving tire makers with a major presence in the U.S., this case involves a Chinese manufacturer selling through U.S. distributors and raises questions about the effectiveness of U.S. safety regulations as they relate to such imports.

FTS says it doesn't have the resources to pay for the recall itself and that it can't even clearly identify the specific tires because the Chinese manufacturer has failed to provide the distributor with the identification numbers of the tires that were manufactured with the missing safety feature.

"Sooner or later there'll be a recall on these tires -- the $64,000,000-question is who pays for it," says Lawrence Lavigne, an attorney representing FTS in a suit filed in district court in New Jersey against Hangzhou. In its suit, FTS accuses the tire maker of removing the safety feature -- a six millimeter layer of rubber that is put between the steel belts to give the tires added durability -- without notifying the distributor.

Mr. Lavigne says FTS suspected a problem as early as 2005, when it noticed a significant increase in claims from consumers for compensation. This typically arises when consumers are unsatisfied with the performance of a tire and return it for a refund or replacement. He contends the Chinese manufacturer initially insisted the tires were built to the specifications and only much later admitted the change.

There has been at least one other accident involving an ambulance, which didn't result in injuries, and a host of claims for compensation from consumers who had problems with the tires.

An official of Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co. reached late Monday evening in China said: "We are aware of this matter and we are now in the process of responding to the lawsuit. Production and sales at our company remain normal."

The problem comes in the wake of several other high-profile safety problems with Chinese products, including the discovery of lead paint on children's toys and hazardous material in Chinese-made toothpaste. In this case, FTS is the "importer of record" for the tires, which makes them responsible for making sure the tires meet U.S. requirements.

Adding a layer of complexity is the fact that the tires meet minimal U.S. safety requirements, according to FTS. The distributor notes that it often demands additional features to make tires more durable than the requirements.

"We saw during the Ford Explorer-Firestone tire scandal how deadly a defective tire can be, especially if it is paired with a light truck," says Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies, a consumer group that works closely with plaintiff attorneys on a variety of automotive issues.

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Will people ever learn, or is that asking far too much?

Close the ports to Chinese imports = we gain.

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Will people ever learn, or is that asking far too much?

Close the ports to Chinese imports = we gain.

No, that would be bad for the American economy too.

Banning safety and health critical things - food, cars, etc may be an idea though.

Not everything Chinese needs to be banned though. So what if the Chinese pants you bought at Walmart fall apart?

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I don't buy Chinese clothes, shop at Walmart or buy Chinese in general for the most part, esp those with moving parts. I will buy used American-made first.

The American economy would have far more disposable income if they weren't continually replacing grotesquely short-lived Chinese goods. I say the economy would improve.

>>"So what if the Chinese pants you bought at Walmart fall apart?"<<

You enjoy flushing your money down the toilet, then? A hobby, perhaps?

Today I plugged in a Made in USA GE 3-spd fan from my MIL's basement. I estimate it was built in the late 1940s. Works fantastically well, should be working just as well by it's 100th birthday. With a Chinese electric fan, you're lucky to get 2 years out of it if it isn't broken right out of the box.

Edited by balthazar
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I don't buy Chinese clothes, shop at Walmart or buy Chinese in general for the most part, esp those with moving parts. I will buy used American-made first.

The American economy would have far more disposable income if they weren't continually replacing grotesquely short-lived Chinese goods. I say the economy would improve.

>>"So what if the Chinese pants you bought at Walmart fall apart?"<<

You enjoy flushing your money down the toilet, then? A hobby, perhaps?

Today I plugged in a Made in USA GE 3-spd fan from my MIL's basement. I estimate it was built in the late 1940s. Works fantastically well, should be working just as well by it's 100th birthday. With a Chinese electric fan, you're lucky to get 2 years out of it if it isn't broken right out of the box.

But the REAL danger here is that those proponents of CHOICE will, ironically, end up losing their choices. Try buying an American TV. Can't. Japan Inc. saw to that. Sears (the powerhouse of the '60s) helped drum out all the American companies by demanding lower and lower prices from its American suppliers, who in turn could not compete with the Japanese manufacturers.

I tried to buy a North American made air conditioner recently. I went to all the major retailers up here: The Bay, Future Shop, Canadian Tire, Wal-Mart - they all carried units Made in China. It does not take a rocket scientist to see where this will end up. Inevitably, Carrier and others will go under.

Did I mention I just threw out my father's 35 year old Chrysler AirTemp? I can just tell that this $220 Chinese made crap will be lucky to last me 5 years. WHERE IS THE SAVINGS IN THAT?

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