Chinese is lekker
Africa was becoming a so-called “dumping ground” for Chinese truck and bus components. The local market, while being tempted by the relatively low purchase prices, soon labelled all Chinese automotive products “cheap and nasty”. The scenario today has improved dramatically. FOCUS investigates.
Two critical factors have led to a growing local acceptance of Chinese commercial vehicle components: China is experiencing an historically unprecedented economic revolution right now, with huge first-world foreign investment helping transform it into a technological and economic powerhouse. Secondly, South Africa has implemented the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications Act (Act 5 of 2008), following a 10-year process intended to align South Africa with world best regulatory practice and meet requirements of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade.
The watchdog body set up to police the Act is the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) – an erstwhile division of SABS which is now independent. Commissioned by the Department of Trade and Industry (Dti), it protects the rights of South African citizens by administering and enforcing compulsory specifications in the interest of public health, safety and environmental protection.
According to automotive technical specialist at the NRCS, Stephen Morgan, “We conduct extensive and ongoing market surveillance, including manufacturers, importers and builders (MIBs) in the truck and bus industries to ensure continuous quality and adherence to the Act. Although our audits focus on safety-critical items like brakes and tyres, the NRCS has noticed a marked improvement in the safety compliance of all newly homologated automotive products, including those from China.”
A leading importer of Chinese tyres is SA Tyre Distributors whose representative, David Evans, states that “half to two-thirds of all Chinese tyres are made in modern factories with the world’s best tyre manufacturing technology. As a result, the price of Chinese tyres has climbed and the gap between the stalwart brands and Chinese tyres has narrowed considerably over the past two years. We test all our tyres at the Gerotek Testing Centre and invite our clients to witness these trials. As far as safety and performance are concerned, our Chinese products perform as well as their western counterparts.”
The fact is, several Chinese products have been in South Africa for years, have established a local footprint and are supported by after sales infrastructures, says Rodney Idris of Commercial Vehicle Tyre Consulting (CVT).
For Steven Herman of leading truck refurbishing shop, Super Hermans, “China’s export market is massive and there are good and bad products. That European truck OEMs are now manufacturing in China proves the country has the necessary technology, skills and quality controls to turn out safe components. Buyers in South Africa should always check the source of the product to make sure it is from a reputable manufacturer.”
In many ways, Chinese automotive parts and components are facing the same resistance Toyota faced in the late 1960s upon its launch in South Africa. Ironically, the recession seems to have helped both Chinese exporters and many local commercial vehicle operators forced to seek cheaper alternatives in cash-strapped times.
“At the end of the day, it all comes down to quality and price,” says Evans, “and the Chinese are getting the mix right.”
Visit www.nrcs.org.za for more info on the Act and to report suspect products and practices.