Aston Martin recall highlights risk of China parts supply

Feb 11 2014, 20:26 IST
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The British maker of the exotic sports cars featured in a string of James Bond spy movies. Reuters The British maker of the exotic sports cars featured in a string of James Bond spy movies. Reuters
SummaryThe British maker of the exotic sports cars featured in a string of James Bond spy movies...

on his mobile phone, said he was aware of the recall of Aston Martin parts, but denied any direct involvement with the British carmaker. "We're fine. We don't make things (for Aston Martin). Another company does it," said Zhang, who declined a request for a meeting.

Attempts to contact Fast Forward Tooling and Synthetic Plastic Raw Material weren't successful. A visit to the Hong Kong address for Fast Forward cited in Aston Martin's document found it to be that of a small legal and secretarial firm where the company had registered its business but had no actual presence.

Aston Martin spokeswoman Sarah Calam said the Chinese sub-suppliers Fast Forward and Kexiang are being replaced, with production shifting to the U.K. The automaker will continue working with Precision Varionic.

In the meantime, she said, both Aston Martin and DuPont have sent people to China to directly supervise the production of all pedal arms, including verifying that each bag of DuPont-branded plastic material is genuine.

As a widely practiced protocol, upper-tier suppliers such as Precision Varionic have responsibility to verify the quality of so-called sub-assemblies provided by lower-tier subcontractors, according to Matteo Fini, senior supply chain consultant with IHS Automotive in London.

"The more one goes down the chain, the less transparent and visible the chain becomes," Fini said.

Aston Martin purchasing director Gary Archer told Reuters on Feb. 7 that "supply chain management is a big challenge for all car makers", but said the company has a robust quality-control system to monitor its suppliers.

The carmaker's spokeswoman Calam acknowledged the complicated nature of managing an extensive automotive supply chain. "It does become more difficult when you think we have over 200 tier-one suppliers, and they each have their own networks of suppliers," she said. "Obviously it gets harder to control the tier-three and tier-four (suppliers) down the chain."

SHABBY WORKSHOP

The complicated task facing a smaller automaker - particularly one with a reputation for iconic design and high-end performance such as Aston Martin - was on full display during the recent visit by Reuters to a factory operated by southern China subcontractor Kexiang.

Kexiang is located in Bao'an, on the outskirts of the boomtown of Shenzhen, in China's "world factory" industrial belt in the Pearl River delta that churns out a quarter of China's exports.

The company operates a small and shabby ground-floor workshop inside a squat pink-tiled building with dirty windows and exposed electrical wiring on its outer walls.

The factory compound

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