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Car torque: Asbestos scare, not

Asbestos scare, not
Same vehicles, same importer – but the recall just announced for Chinese Great Wall Motors (GWM) and Chery vehicles found to contain asbestos in Australia won’t be duplicated in New Zealand. Over 24,000 cars imported before July 2012 were found to breach the Australian ban on the importation of asbestos, with small quantities of chrysolite (white asbestos) identified in engine and exhaust gaskets. In fact, “recall” may be overstating things: the offending cars will simply have warning labels affixed, for when the parts wear out and have to be replaced. But Australasian GWM/Chery importer Ateco Automotive won’t even be doing that for those pre-July cars that came to New Zealand. According to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, the New Zealand government does not require a recall because local rules covering the importation of products containing asbestos are not as stringent as Australia. It has instead issued a reminder about health and safety requirements for the handling of friction products containing asbestos (brake pads being the most common).

Scary setback
Ateco commissioned a separate risk assessment from Sydney-based consultant Hibbs & Associates. The report concluded there was no danger of asbestos fibres being released into the vehicles’ ventilation systems and that, even if repairs were carried out in an “uncontrolled” manner, the risk to mechanics was still low. I spoke with Daniel Cotterill, Sydney-based public affairs consultant for Ateco’s Chinese brands, about the recall issue: “There is absolutely zero tolerance for asbestos in Australia,” said Mr Cotterill. “Here, we have a regulatory issue but not a safety issue. In New Zealand, we have neither. I don’t wish to make light of this, as we have broken the rules in Australia and it’s a serious issue. But honestly, to be in any danger [from the gaskets] you’d have to put them in a grinder.” Even so, “asbestos” is a scary word and the publicity from this issue must be a major setback for the Chinese brands. Stickers on New Zealand vehicles are surely the least a responsible company should do?

New Territory
Ford Australia makes impressive cars but doesn’t seem to have the knack for capitalising on their export potential. It’s probably too late to start now, with both Falcon and Territory on borrowed time under the Blue Oval’s One Ford global-design ethos. Nonetheless, it shipped a small number of top-specification Territory Titanium models to Thailand this week, with minor modifications for the local market including radio frequencies and DVD-player region coding. The first shipment was just 100 vehicles, although it’s not the first trip to Thailand for Territory. Ford Australia exported the earlier model there in 2005, as well as 2300 vehicles to South Africa. New Zealand remains the No 1 export market for Territory, with sales of 12,000 since 2004. That’s 9.3% of total production.

Twin confusion
Fiat has launched the acclaimed TwinAir version of the 500 in Australia. The two-cylinder engine produces 23% more power than the previous 1.2-litre four, while emissions are reduced by 15%. It will do 0-100km/h in 11 seconds, yet returns 3.9 litres per 100km. The TwinAir is by all accounts a wonderful little car and may come to New Zealand but first we need to know how. There is still no word on local distribution for Fiat/Alfa, following the announcement in May that rights to distribute the Italian brands had been passed to Chrysler Australia, which does have its own infrastructure here. At the moment, former importer Ateco Automotive is acting as caretaker for the brands.

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