The head of Australia’s automotive aftermarket peak body has attacked last week’s ‘fake wheel’ exposé conducted by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries with the backing of Mercedes-Benz and Holden.
As we reported earlier this week, the FCAI filmed an imitation wheel imported via an online distributor, which failed to meet Australian standards, undergoing tests at Holden’s proving ground. It shattered dramatically over a pothole at low speed, and the campaign then used this as a catalyst to launch its own attack on shady back-channel parts.
The crux of the ‘Genuine is Best’ campaign, in the words of the Chamber, is to educate people on the importance of buying Australian-certified parts, with a particular emphasis on official parts made by car-makers for their own cars. The argument is that, imitation parts are potentially deadly.
However, the campaign predominantly attacked dodgy knockoffs, rather than aftermarket parts that are sold reputably and meet standards — though naturally, the FCAI would argue that car-makers’ parts are superior, even if they might be pricier at times.
But the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association’s (AAAA) executive director Stuart Charity begs to differ. He said this week that the FCAI test was a “deliberately misleading and self-serving exercise”.
“These wheels should not have been imported into the country – they do not meet Australian Standards and would never have been sold by any reputable Australian wheel retailer,” he said.
“The illegal wheels used in the FCAI stunt should never have passed through Australia’s border protection system. And those selling illegal wheels should be prosecuted under consumer protection laws.”
Charity’s statements — bound to attract headlines — touch on the obvious question of whether there was an ulterior motive to the Genuine is Best campaign, something the organisers stringently deny but which the AAAA is alleging.
“The FCAI stunt was simply a scare campaign funded by the car industry as an advertisement for high profit margin car makers’ branded products. Unfortunately, it was also an expose´ on how to buy imported illegal products that do not meet Australian Standards.”
Later, Charity added: “Of particular concern is the claim that this FCAI campaign is promoting road safety. The reality is this campaign is funded and directed by the car industry to support their own commercial interests.
“If the road safety motive was genuine, the test would have been conducted using a real-world example relating to the average car owner. They should have selected a high volume car model and bought the products from any local tyre and wheel outlet.”
“…It is hard to believe that anyone owning a late model Mercedes-Benz would suddenly have a desire to remove the original wheels, buy a set of cheap wheels from an online store and then fit them to their premium car.”
The imitation wheels tested in the FCAI-held event this week looked identical to Mercedes-Benz ones and cost about a quarter the price of the real numbers. Of course, they also proved unbelievably shoddy and downright dangerous.
The AAAA’s angle is that aftermarket suppliers who meet regulations are just as safe-an option as the ‘genuine’ parts. Of course, it’s the AAAA’s job to support the interests of those it represents, too.
“A more appropriate message would have been to educate consumers to ‘buy product that meets Australian Standards and is ‘fit for purpose’. Another important consumer message is ‘don’t buy safety critical car parts online from unknown vendors’,” Charity said.
“Products purchased through reputable auto parts retailers – and that meet Australia’s Standards – are of the same quality, if not better, than car manufacturer-branded product.”
But an insider from the Genuine is Best campaign insisted public safety was paramount here, and that it was not a campaign to protect the parts business of car-makers.
“We are not attacking the aftermarket. We are attacking fake wheels. Simple fact is you can buy them. We’re not attacking aftermarket product, we’re attacking rubbish,” our source said.
“If they (parts) meet the Australian standard they meet the Australian standard. We recommend you use the genuine product.”