Some frightening parallels exist between the now widespread horsemeat scandal and some automotive industry sharp practices.
A UK PR agency specialising in automotive tells us that the British public has woken up in recent weeks to find the media informing it that everything was not exactly what it seemed to be, with regards to the “beef” it had been eating.
One of Britain’s largest supermarket chains, Tesco, first had horsemeat discovered in some of its beef burgers. This was quickly followed by other similar revelations including, most recently, Findus lasagne being discovered as having been contaminated with large quantities of horsemeat.
The British public was, naturally, outraged. It was not that horsemeat was dangerous, – because of course it isn’t, and in many countries across Europe, it is readily and quite properly available, often through speciality retailers – the strong reaction came because the public felt it had been conned, and by names that it has trusted for a long time.
It’s a competitive world out there and products are all too often built down to a price point – rather than up to a standard, especially in these uncertain economic times. When this happens there is inevitably a degree of compromise necessary and this holds as true in the automotive sector as it appears to do in the British meat industry.
At all levels of the automotive industry companies and individuals will often use whatever means at their disposal to create a competitive advantage and in the lighting sector it has been common practice for years for companies to put out information of all sorts without being challenged about it.
There are examples of it everywhere – in promotional and marketing material, but more worryingly, at the most basic level, regarding the actual information printed on packaging of the products themselves.
Much like the UK’s horsemeat scandal, innocent parties will suffer as a result of these tactics, which range from the unfair, through the dishonest, to the downright illegal. Unlike horsemeat, however, which is unlikely to physically harm the consumer the same cannot be said with regards to automotive lighting products, because of their safety-critical nature for motorists.
Car headlights are “the eyes” of the car (or motorbike) and being able to see where one is headed, read the road signs and check for oncoming hazards is about as basic a requirement as it gets for the safety of motorists, passengers and pedestrians alike.
The industry needs to ask itself some pretty tough questions.
Firstly, how come so many so-called “reputable” automotive companies are prepared to supply what, to all intents and purposes, are substandard products?
Secondly why are workshops in many countries prepared to install products that are inadequate at best, and potentially lethal at worst?
Simply put – it’s because the products are cheap so there is an easy profit to be made and, sadly, because it’s not policed properly by the industry itself and because end-users aren’t educated enough to know better.
The whole situation is made worse by manufacturers who make excessive or spurious claims regarding their products, which in the main, no-one has the time, the required facilities, or the resources, to challenge.
Much like the UK Horsemeat scandal, what the packaging proclaims the contents of the box to be, is simply not what is actually there on the inside.
For years, Philips and Osram – who between them are the biggest manufacturers of OE lights to the industry – have given over their testing facilities to magazines to conduct bulb comparison tests.
Chief amongst these, in the UK, has been Auto Express. Every year, it tests pairs of headlight bulbs and every year it unfailingly finds numerous bulbs that simply don’t live up to the claims of their manufacturers: “120% more light than a standard bulb”….actually more like 60%; “matched pairs” of headlamps that, when tested, have wildly differing performance levels; and, in some cases it’s even been as basic as a “pair” of headlamp bulbs in the same box coming from two different manufacturers.
Consumers suffer because they are being given something, which is, at best, barely fit for purpose, and in some cases is so bad as to be dangerous. Service workshops suffer because they may well have to spend time (and thus money) to replace poor quality bulbs, free of charge. They also face a consequent loss of customer goodwill and thus, the whole industry suffers as a result.
How long will the automotive industry be allowed simply to “look the other way?” Unlike the British horsemeat scandal, which is having major repercussions in the UK, the acceptance of shoddy practice in automotive lighting unfortunately looks set to run and run…..