In a telephone survey of heavy-duty parts distributors conducted this July by Wade & Partners (www.wade-partners.com), 42% of the distributors indicated that they are concerned about what is being imported from the People’s Republic of China-- as are 64% of their customers. These concerns over Chinese manufacturing quality, however, are not deterring heavy-duty distributors and fleet customers from purchasing made-in-China products, according to the survey.
According to Wade & Partners, while respondents expressed concerns about products from China in the areas of quality of materials used, level of workmanship and the ability of the product to meet U.S. government specs, especially in safety-related lines, having a well-known domestic brand name was apparently reassuring enough to make the sale. “If people recognize the name, then it seems to fall into the ‘safe buy’ category...it will work the way it is supposed to and it will be dependable,” said Bill Wade, managing partner.
“Frankly, I was very surprised by the response we received,” he continued. “I was not expecting distributors to say that familiarity of a brand would so overwhelmingly take precedence over what is actually in the box. Instances like the Mattel toy recall [millions of toys painted with high lead content coating] have just not had a crossover effect here yet.”
Although the survey indicated that most people are still buying parts from China in spite of such concerns, there were two important side notes. First of all, according to the report, some stores have quit selling products they fear may not be up to par-- popular brand or not. And some are taking an in-depth look at the products and the manufacturing processes to make sure that they are up to standards. Other stores have stopped selling China-made products all together, although most appear to be doing so as a point of differentiation in marketing their own services.
Secondly, when it comes to safety items (like wheel bearings, brake friction material or steering components), product lines are treated differently than others in terms of specification, according to Wade. Even at the distributor level, higher levels of qualifications need to be met in order for those products to be put on the market.
The survey also asked the question: “Does ‘Made in America’ still have selling power?” The answer was “Yes”, with 75% of participants saying that a product can still create a market simply by being American-made.