Foreign tire sales recall has major ramifications

The Recall of 255,000 Chinese-made tires in the Foreign Tires Sales Inc (FTS) case is expected to produce significant fallout in terms of other commodities and products.

“The government is keenly aware this is a trend that has potential safety risks — not just in the heavy-duty industry, but in the entire transportation industry,” says Brad Van Riper, past president of the Transportation Safety Equipment Institute (TSEI) and VP of research and development for Truck-Lite.

FTS, of Union, New Jersey, was ordered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in June to recall as many as 450,000 tires that it purchased from Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co since 2002. The tires were marketed as at least four brands: Westlake, Telluride, Compass, and YKS.

The tires were suspected of causing two accidents — including one in August 2006 in Pennsylvania in which two men were killed, leading the families to file a lawsuit against FTS on May 4.

After commissioning its own tests, FTS informed NHTSA that some of Hangzhou Zhongce's tires were made without a gum strip — a safety feature that aids in binding the belts of a tire to each other — and others had a strip about half the width of the 0.6 millimeters Foreign Tire Sales expected.

Van Riper says that because FTS is the importer, it is the “default manufacturer of record” and is responsible for the performance and liability issues that previously were assumed by the manufacturer. According to the National Traffic & Motor Vehicle Safety Act, persons are prohibited from manufacturing for sale, offering for sale, introducing or delivering for introduction, or importing any motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment unless it conforms to applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS).

This echoes the 2003 case involving America Products Company, which was assessed a $650,000 civil penalty for importing and selling non-compliant lighting equipment.

FTS does not have a warehouse and has arranged for tires to be shipped directly to distributors, who then send them to retail outlets.

“Going direct sounds like a good way to do things, but you lose a whole lot,” Van Riper says. “If you really feel like there's a need to do a lower-cost product line, you may want to use an existing manufacturer that can shield the distributor from liability. I'm sure Foreign Tire Sales is having second thoughts after being exposed to a potential $90 million recall campaign. Any safety product covered by performance requirements should be interested in this area.”

On Sept. 12, NHTSA signed a Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) with the People's Republic of China (PRC) to strengthen the relationship between the two countries in the area of motor vehicle safety and to improve enforcement standards.

The bilateral arrangement, formally signed between NHTSA and China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), sets out a range of cooperative goals, including developing safety standards for automotive equipment and enforcing those standards. The MOC also encourages developing and disseminating consumer information, developing and sharing automotive safety research, and sharing efforts on improving vehicle fuel economy.

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