Additional information on unsafe Chinese tires
Chinese tires were in the news again yesterday, as the American distributor recalled a quarter million tires that were manufactured without a "gum" layer that is a standard component to prevent tires from disintegrating on rapid deflation. The gum layer is a significant safety feature of radial tires that has been a standard American component for decades. It costs about 30 cents per tire, according to CNN. CNN also noted that Chinese manufacturers have now captured more than 80 percent of the American market for SUV tires, and about forty percent of the American tire market in total.
The defective tires weren't identified by the American distributor or by any governmental entity--either Chinese or American. The Consumer Product Safety Commission does not have the authority to investigate products pre-market; it only has the power to institute product recalls (after a lengthy investigative process that is never swift--but which under Republican administrations is incredibly dragged out). Thus, a certain number of consumers must be sacrificed before the population can be protected from defective products. Earlier in our blog on defective Chinese jewelry, we cited the statistics on the effectiveness of product recalls: only about ten percent of recalled products are actually turned in by consumers in a typical recall, and ninety percent remain in circulation.
In this case, the defective Chinese tires were discovered by a trial lawyer investigating the deaths of two men killed after a sudden deflation and blow out on a Pennsylvania highway. The case is a further reminder of one of the original public policy advantages of a robust civil negligence system: in the absence of governmental regulation, potential civil liability can serve a protective function.
Sadly, in states like Michigan which don't allow product liability actions against the retailer, consumers have no remedy for defective products as the Chinese government doesn't allow service of process on its manufacturers. Not only does this deprive injury victims of compensation, but it also shifts the cost of debilitating accidents to the general population in the form of Medicaid and Social Security Disability. There is an additional cost, however. Since Michigan retailers have no liability exposure for marketing defective products, they are encouraged to purchase the cheapest products available, and they are not encouraged to investigate these products. As a result, American manufacturers, who are susceptible to service of process and to liability for defective products, bear additional burdens in the form of quality control and insurance coverage--making it more difficult for American products to be competitive in our own market.
If our Michigan legislators wanted to assist native manufacturing efforts and enhance the job market here, they would assure that product retailers must stand behind defective products: the effect would be to eliminate one of the legislative advantages that "tort reform" has bestowed upon foreign competitors. As we have seen, these competitors are taking advantage of their governmental-gifted immunity to dump cheap, defective products on our markets. Not surprisingly, the Chinese government has defended the tires being recalled and objected to the effort to remove them from the market.