Lobby groups face off in fake parts or fake news fracas…Mazda all in a spin over rotary engine celebrations…Global car industry a major health hazard…Toyota to spend big on driver health and AVs…

The two vested interest parties in the genuine/non-genuine replacement parts war are at it again with the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association, the lobby group for suppliers of non-genuine parts acquising its nemeses, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, the lobby group for the car industry in Australia, of putting out fake news.

According to the AAAA, recent media releases by the FCAI outlining the seizure of counterfeit car parts on their way to Australia, is about as genuine as the parts in question:  “Counterfeit automotive parts allegedly on their way to Australia are being reported every couple of months by way of press release through the FCAI’s Genuine is Best campaign which is managed by PR agency The Project Group,” claims AAAA’s Stuart Charity.

He also says that the apparent ‘flood’ of counterfeit parts started in 2015, not long after the launch of the Genuine is Best initiative. The campaign recently held a media briefing at Holden to warn of the dangers relating to counterfeit bonnets to suit VF Holden Commodore that are made of incorrect material and of inferior construction with potentially dangerous outcomes should they fail.

The article says that it is always the case when car manufacturers and their nominated representatives make sweeping statements about the benefits of so called ‘genuine’ parts over parts sold by companies outside of their network, their position must be met with some skepticism. “After all, there are some very compelling safety concerns raised in the latest press releases, however, there are equally compelling commercial reasons for the FCAI to convince consumers that genuine is best.

“Firstly, the bonnets called into question are referred to as ‘fake’ or counterfeit. By definition this means they were being falsely represented as genuine, or more correctly as car company-branded. As defined in the FCAI’s Genuine is Best website, counterfeit parts are ‘illegal imitations sold as genuine parts. They may be stamped with serial numbers and the logo of the car or motorcycle manufacturer in order to deceive consumers into thinking they are genuine parts.’”

The FCAI then goes on to refer to the bonnets as non-genuine, or aftermarket (which they are) but according to the AAAA aftermarket is not the same as counterfeit. “The two are not the same and for Holden and the FCAI to use the terms interchangeably is, in itself, misleading. To suggest that component failures are purely the domain of the aftermarket is clearly ridiculous. Less than 10% of product recalls of vehicle and auto parts over the last 12 months have been for aftermarket components. The remaining 90% relate to original equipment components.”

According to Stuart’s article, when the FCAI and car companies speak about genuine parts, there is a clear and undisputable vested interest in convincing consumers that only a genuine part purchased through the franchised dealership network can be trusted.

The appropriateness of the term genuine to describe car-company branded parts is called into question. Car companies outsource production of most vehicle components to third party manufacturers. These same companies often supply parts not only to the car companies, but also directly to the automotive industry supply chains as aftermarket parts. In many cases, the same part with the same part numbers and identifiers can be purchased in either a car-company branded box, or the component manufacturer-branded box.

So what’s the problem with the OEMs defending their market share? Well, Stuart reckons that whilst the problem of counterfeit or ‘fake’ parts should indeed be taken seriously, to suggest that counterfeit parts are the same thing as aftermarket parts, or to use the terms interchangeably, is misleading and potentially defamatory.

“Aftermarket parts are parts made by manufacturers other than the original equipment manufacturer. High quality aftermarket parts will meet or exceed OEM specifications, providing consumers with greater choice in terms of affordability without compromising on performance. Many aftermarket manufacturers offer parts with superior characteristics than the original component, as is the case for many high performance and 4WD/commercial vehicle parts. It is interesting that Ford US has just announced the release of the Omnicraft brand, an aftermarket product range including oil filters, brake pads, brake discs, starter motors, alternators and suspension parts.”

No wonder the motoring public is confused. Basically, it’s all about branding and boils down to some genuine and non-genuine parts being produced on the same production line before being packed in separate boxes. It’s much like the supermarket shelf where ‘genuine’ brands compete with non-genuine, or in this case, house brands, even though the same company makes some of the products. In both the food and automotive industries, the non-genuine, or house brands, are inevitably price point items.

Naturally, both sides of the branding fence put out their own particular take on the subject and the above-and what follows-is the AAAA’s version. It’s a pity, however, that the organisation has had to resort to the ‘Trumpism’ of fake news, which is rapidly becoming synonymous with having something to hide. But if you’re still interest in this side of the story, then read on.

So what exactly is the message here from FCAI and the car companies they represent? Aftermarket parts are potentially unsafe and unreliable and “fake”, unless being sold by their agents in which case they represent “quality parts at a competitive price”. The usual line we are fed about only ‘genuine’ parts being “rigorously tested by that maker as an integral component of the vehicle to meet high quality, safety and performance standards” is completely undermined by the fact that Ford now offer an aftermarket range to owners of non-Ford vehicles. Or are we supposed to believe that they were given access to other manufacturers’ specifications, testing facilities and vehicles to develop this range? I don’t think so!

It is easy to cherry pick a part of questionable construction and then make sweeping statements about parts of similar origin. However, this is a fallacious strategy. And to use such a fallacy to ‘inform’ consumers of the virtues of their members’ products and the risks associated with stepping outside of their network under the guise of consumer safety is deliberately misleading and unconscionable. Not only does it deliver a false message to Australian consumers, it is damaging to Australian businesses.

Despite the impending exit of the car companies from the Australian manufacturing landscape, automotive manufacturing remains a thriving industry in Australia through our world-leading aftermarket manufacturers who are not only providing high quality components to Australians, they are exporting across the globe. In fact, Australian aftermarket components are universally regarded as some of the highest quality in the world, and our local businesses leverage this reputation to develop their export business into some of the most competitive markets, including low cost manufacturing regions such as China.

The truth is that all product types, in all categories sold in Australia are subject to protections under the Australian Consumer Law. From time to time products will fail to meet Australian Standards for one reason or another. In the automotive sector, this reality is not exclusive to aftermarket parts nor is it exclusive to car-company branded parts. This is why we have consumer protections and a system of recall and remedy.

There is absolutely no denying that parts quality will vary from brand to brand, as will price. There is also no denying that there are parts available that are of questionable quality, a fact which consumers should be aware of  (particularly when buying through unknown, online sources). With any product purchase, there are risks associated with buying based on lowest price, and best practice would suggest that consumers should insist on quality brands purchased through reputable suppliers.

The choice as to whether this equates to car company-branded parts or aftermarket parts rests with the consumer and they should be free to make this choice without duress. Consumers have a wide variety of legitimate choices when it comes to what parts are fitted to their vehicle. If you choose to buy car company-branded parts supplied through the dealership network that is a legitimate choice, backed by Australian Consumer Law (ACL) protections. If you choose to buy aftermarket parts through a reputable supplier, that is a legitimate choice, also backed by the ACL consumer protections. This is the real consumer message here. Anything else is Fake News!

 

Mazda all in a spin over rotary engine celebrations

At the time it was thought to be the power unit that would revolutionise the automotive industry, a bit like AVs today. But fifty years later, the rotary – or Wankel – engine is little more than a memory for the enthusiast and a museum piece for the rest of us. So what was this little ball of fire? It was an idea of technical genius and Nazi nutter Felix Wankel and was first used in the 1950s by German automaker NSU. When the company went belly up, the technology was taken over by Mazda that 50 years ago produced the Cosmo 110S, the first mass-produced, twin-rotor engine in history.

Those days the Japanese company was better known for its trucks and micro cars but wanted to differentiate itself from the crowd of manufacturers gunning for the Western market with a new sports car. Having banked its survival on the Wankel, engineers, known in house as the 47 Samurai, set about refining the unit for production. The twin-rotor Mazda Cosmo Sport 110S made its public debut at the 1964 Tokyo Motor Show and landed in showrooms on May 30 in 1967.

Sales were, to say the least, a bit slow but Mazda stuck with the rotary configuration, eventually using it to power everything from family cars to a 26-seater bus. But to most motoring enthusiasts mention of the rotary engine means the RX-7 or RX-8, both of which did what Mazda required and separated the company from the crowd of sports cars.

So what was the Wankel cum rotary engine?

Utilising a rotating central ‘piston’ in the shape of a triangle and a rounded rectangle-shaped combustion chamber, the rotary engine spun its central rotor in an elliptical motion with the tips touching the inside of the chamber, expanding and contracting the shape and size of the three combustion chambers created by the seals.

The upside was a compact, smooth, valveless engine with the promise of an excellent power output and low displacement. On the downside, it was very, very thirsty, a little bit unreliable and wore out much quicker than a traditional internal combustion engine. At the height of the craze, Mazda built a quad-rotor engine for the 787B prototype racecar that won the overall title in the 1991 Le Mans 24-hour race, the only Japanese automaker to have so.

All of which makes it even more surprising that the car company has not announced any over-the-top, autospeak-laden plans to celebrate the occasion. And this in an industry that would celebrate the anniversary of granny changing her knitting needles.

Global car industry a major health hazard

Former mayor of New York, businessman, author, philanthropist and squillionaire Michael Bloomberg has a company known as Bloomberg Philanthropies that works to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people by focusing on the arts, education, the environment, government innovation and public health. In his ‘spare time’ he is also the World Health Organisation global ambassador for non-communicable diseases, a role that has put him (pardon the pun) on a collision course with the global automobile industry. How? Well Michael reckons that lax vehicle safety standards in developing countries are one of the major health hazards facing the world.

“If car crashes were an infectious disease, like malaria or polio, governments, international aid organisations and foundations would pour money and energy into stopping it, as is only right. If that kind of determination is brought to bear on road crashes, we can save millions of lives and prevent untold amounts of heartache and grief,” he said.

Speaking at the 25th International Technical Conference on the Enhanced Safety of Vehicles in Detroit, he went on to point out that around the world, road crashes kill an estimated 1.3 million people each year and injure up to 50 million and called upon the industry to lift its game.

“Automakers, including US and European companies, routinely sell cars without many of the basic safety protections that are standard in their home country. Often, they are sold without airbags or electronic stability systems, and they are not capable of protecting passengers in crashes above 35mph. The result is an awful lot of people are being killed in crashes that in the US and Europe they would likely survive.”

According to the World Health Organisation, if vehicle manufacturers in just Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico, adopted minimum vehicle safety standards, by 2030, 40,000 deaths and 400,000 serious injuries could be prevented. The WHO also thinks that meeting such standards is not expensive. The difference in building a car to the highest, or lowest safety ratings, can be as small as a couple hundred dollars but for car passengers, it can mean the difference between life and death. Automakers have argued that producing cars without airbags and other basic safety features helps keep them affordable in lower-income markets. But the cost of basic safety features is so low that incorporating them into production would have little impact on affordability.

“Consider the Chevy Spark. It’s among the best-selling cars in Mexico, yet it received a safety rating of zero out of a possible five stars, based on test crashes carried out last year by the Latin New Car Assessment Program, which is funded in part by Bloomberg Philanthropies. Of the 10 top-selling car models in Mexico, at least four have safety ratings of zero stars.

“Zero stars means, in short, that a passenger is not likely to survive a crash. Yet the version of the Spark sold in the US receives the highest-possible safety rating. Foreign consumers who think that all cars manufactured by General Motors are built according to US safety standards are tragically mistaken. The same is true for cars manufactured in Europe and sold in Latin America and other regions of the world,” said Michael.

In India, for instance, major global brands including GM, Hyundai, Renault-Nissan and Tata are all selling zero-star cars (as rated by the Global New Car Assessment Programme, also a recipient of funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies) that would fail to pass the safety standards applied in the U.S. or Europe. Last year, more than 600,000 zero-star cars were sold in India, including the best-selling model, the Maruti Suzuki Alto.

Michael believes that this is a major public health crisis that has not gotten anywhere near the attention it deserves, and it demands an urgent response both by governments and automakers. So, what can be done?

“Automakers should make voluntary commitments that all of their cars swiftly reach or exceed the safety standards adopted by the United Nations. Cars sold in the US, most of Europe, Japan, Korea and Australia already meet these or equivalent national standards, but not those sold in most of the rest of the world.

“At the same time, governments should create and enforce better vehicle safety standards. And raising consumer awareness through independent crash-test programs, like the one in Latin America, would help more consumers make informed choices.”

In fact, auto companies have good reasons to act now. As living standards rise across Latin America, India and Asia, consumers with more buying power will demand safer cars. Companies that take the lead are likely to be rewarded with higher sales, as they are in the U.S. and other places where car safety information is readily available. But if history is any guide, action will only come with public pressure.

Bloomberg Philanthropies will launch a consumer education campaign in Latin America later this summer to address these challenges. This will help ensure that car buyers know which cars aren’t safe and which companies aren’t providing safe options. Informed consumers will have the power to impact car sales and save lives.

Toyota to spend big on driver health and AVs

Toyota is to spend about $A47 million at its Collaborative Safety Research Centre (CSRC) in the United States on research into safety challenges and opportunities related to autonomous and connected vehicles. According to the company, previous CSRC programs have resulted in important advances in safety technology including systems that can predict and detect serious illness in drivers such as heart attacks and the performance of driver’s with insulin-dependent diabetes.

The new investment, known as CSRC Next, will support research over five years to support a safe transition to future mobility. Project will follow four themes:

  • • The potential integration of active and passive safety systems, using advanced pre-crash sensors to improve and personalise crash protection
    • Building advanced vehicle-user experience models for individuals and society to improve usability and strengthen the relationship between driver and vehicle
    • Improving mobility by studying how to detect the driver’s personal condition, using physiology and health metrics
    • Applying big data and safety analytics techniques to develop algorithms and tools to study naturalistic driving data.

The new research portfolio includes projects to be conducted in partnership with six academic institution including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop new systems for autonomous vehicles and Virginia Tech to look at issues that arise out of the deployment of a car’s integrated safety systems.

CSRC is also working with the Toyota Research Institute and Toyota Connected to help accelerate the development of autonomous driving technology and explore the complex relationship between future mobility and broader social trends. Emergency medicine has studied a technique for detection and prediction of people suffering severe heart complaints inside a vehicle and real-time glucose monitoring systems in drivers with insulin-dependent diabetes.