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Asbestos alert on Chinese cars

In limbo: The discovery of parts containing asbestos in Chinese-made cars has affected some vehicles such as the Great Wall V240.

23,000 Great Wall and Chery vehicles caught up in safety probe after asbestos found

14 Aug 2012

ALMOST 24,000 vehicles sold in Australia by Chinese manufacturers Great Wall and Chery may have to be recalled after importer Ateco Automotive discovered the presence of the banned and potentially deadly substance asbestos in some components.

The issue appears to stem from component suppliers to the two unrelated companies.

Ateco found asbestos in engine and exhaust gaskets a couple of months ago during routine compliance testing.

As a result, numerous vehicles and spare parts have been withdrawn from sale until the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) decides on which course of remedial action should be taken.

Ateco’s Chinese brands spokesman Daniel Cotterill told GoAuto the affected cars include around 21,500 Great Wall utes and SUVs, 1700 Chery J11 compact SUVs and 550 Chery J3 light cars.

“Upon finding out, we took steps to have production stopped and froze any stock that had not yet cleared customs,” said Mr Cotterill.

 center imageLeft: Chery J11 and J1. Below: Chery J3.

“Anything being imported and sold now is clean.” Inhalation of asbestos fibres can result in serious respiratory illnesses including lung cancer.

Ateco and its network of Chinese vehicle dealers have enough unaffected vehicles in stock to keep sales moving, but Mr Cotterill conceded that this bad publicity for Chinese vehicles in Australia would not be helpful.

Affected spare parts have also been withdrawn from dealer stock, with replacements being shipped in by air.

Mr Cotterill said third-party parts suppliers such as Repco do not carry Ateco-sourced parts and could not say whether it was possible that they also have parts that contain asbestos.

He supplied GoAuto with a copy of a risk assessment report of the matter by occupational health and safety consultancy Hibbs and Associates, which found the presence of asbestos in gaskets to “constitute a negligible asbestos related health risk to the driver and passengers”.

The presence of asbestos is potentially risky for people servicing the vehicles, but Hibbs and Associates concluded there were “negligible” health risks if recommended handling and removal procedures were followed when exposed to the affected gaskets.

“Even if carried out in an uncontrolled way, handling and removing these gaskets constitutes a very low asbestos related health risk,” says the report, which also points out the small amount of asbestos in the gaskets.

Mr Cotterill said the affected vehicles had been built and shipped to Australia despite Ateco informing the manufacturers that asbestos has been completely banned in Australia since the end of 2003 and receiving assurances that the vehicles would be asbestos-free.

“While we are very surprised and disappointed to find out that (asbestos) was there, (the manufacturer’s) action since then has been quite good in terms of stopping production and auditing with their suppliers to find out what happened and making sure it doesn’t happen again.” Asked whether there was now a trust issue between Ateco and its Chinese vehicle manufacturers, Mr Cotterill said Ateco has “a written apology from the most senior levels of management at Great Wall”, along with the company’s assurance that it will not happen again.

“The gravity of the situation is not lost on them, put it that way,” he said.

“Regardless of anything like that, our compliance auditing procedures will remain in place.” Until the ACCC decides what should be done, Ateco and the owners of affected vehicles will have to remain in a holding pattern.

Mr Cotterill said he is constrained on speaking about potential remedial actions that Ateco will make until the ACCC makes a ruling, but suggested the action depends on vehicle type.

“At this stage, until the ACCC hands down its final verdict on our proposed strategy we haven’t been able to do anything.

“I understand they expect to carry this matter forward very soon.” GoAuto understands the Chinese manufacturers, rather than Ateco, will be expected to foot the bill for any action taken.

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