Blog: Dave LeggettChina quality

Dave Leggett | 19 March 2007

Attention was drawn last week to China and the issue of quality. Just how good is manufacturing quality in China these days, generally?
Quality in China used to be terrible. I remember in the early 1990s seeing rectification guys at the end of the line at Beijing Jeep setting to work on unruly body panels with wooden mallets. Back then, international standards were something to aspire to, one day. The local market wasn’t exactly demanding; it would take what it could get. Old models – like the Volkswagen Santana – fitted the bill perfectly, too.
But that was the early days. There has been a stampede of foreign OEMs and their suppliers into China since then. Quality standards have undoubtedly risen and the industry has developed at a rapid pace. International vehicle makers and Tier 1s bring with them their honed manufacturing systems and process knowledge, of course. Best practice and all that.
And yet, China is not Germany. Precision engineering products from local suppliers might not be as good as elsewhere, but perhaps there are informal sourcing ‘directives’ to work with. There may be political pressures at work in Chinese JVs that also mean working with a labour/capital ratio that is not conducive to quality. Humans engaged in spot-welding are more prone to make mistakes than robots.
For all the assurances from companies in China that Chinese output meets international quality standards, there’s just a suspicion that actually maybe it doesn’t. It’s a sensitive area, for sure, and it becomes even more so once the Chinese stuff gets exported.
Honda has been at the vanguard of using China for low-cost sourcing for international markets. It has even won the unheard of permission - as a foreigner - to have a majority stake in a Chinese JV, because the Chinese authorities were so pleased with its export strategy.
But Honda has just announced a major recall on some of its Chinese exports. Along with other recalls, maybe it’s just a sign of China’s growing pains and pressures to cut costs lately. Even if that is so, Chinese manufacturing quality is sure to be under very close scrutiny as the industry’s output and international presence grows over the next few years.

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