EXCLUSIVE-China problems force Aston Martin into global recall of 1,658 cars


Reuters

CORRECTED-EXCLUSIVE-China problems force Aston Martin into global recall of 1,658 cars


(Replaces "fuel pipe" with "fluid pipe" and replaces "brake
pads" with "throttle pedals" in paragraphs 20 and 21.)
    * Recall in response to customer complaints from China
    * Affects Vantages built between June 2010 and September
2013
    * Stalling caused complete loss of power in some cars
    * Chinese consumer group asked for recall

    By Norihiko ShirouzuBEIJING, June 20 (Reuters) - British sports car maker Aston
Martin Lagonda Ltd is ordering a global recall of 1,658 Vantage
cars after problems with a routine transmission software update
led to incidents in China in which some cars stalled and lost
power, its CEO told Reuters.
    Chief executive Andy Palmer said the decision was taken
after a team of Aston Martin engineers went to China in May to
investigate a problem that several customers there had been
complaining about since 2014.
    "Normally (recalls) start in America. I don't think it is
the only example, but it's interesting that it started from
China and becomes a global recall," Palmer told Reuters by
telephone.
    "It demonstrates the importance of China, the sophistication
of the customer and the diligence of the authority there."
    The luxury carmaker, famous for making the car driven by
secret agent James Bond, sold 3,259 cars globally last year,
nearly 8 percent of them in China.
    Aston Martin's plan was conveyed on Tuesday to Chinese
regulatory agencies that had taken up the issue after
dissatisfied customers complained. Formal documents would be
submitted by the end of the European day, Palmer said.
    Chinese authorities did not respond to a request for
comment.
    The global recall will be unwelcome publicity for a company
that has said for years it wants to go public. It reported its
first Q1 profit in a decade in May.
    Palmer did not say how much the recall would cost, but
knowledgeable people close to the company estimated the total
cost at around 300,000 pounds ($380,760).
    The recall will cover 1,658 Vantage cars built between June
2010 and September 2013 with the Sportshift I and Sportshift II
automated manual transmission gearboxes, including 113 that were
sold in China. The Vantage is the only Aston Martin model with a
semi-manual shift.

    FAILURE TO RESET
    Palmer said the problem occurred because some dealerships in
China failed to reset the clutch position after software updates
to the automatic transmission system.
    "In the normal course of events, when you make a software
change, you have to re-teach the engagement position of the
clutch. And most of our dealers around the world automatically
did that," he said.
    If the clutch is not re-taught the biting point - the point
when the clutch plate engages with the engine plate - "it's
possible that a car could initially stall while in operation",
he said.
    Aston Martin sent its engineers to China after it tried and
failed to replicate the stalling problem in its own engineering
laboratories. When they arrived, they discovered that some cars
suffered unusual noise and vibration, and in worst cases an
engine stall, after the new software was installed.
    The stalling caused a complete loss of power in some cases,
shutting off the engine and power to the electrically-assisted
steering and brakes, making it extremely difficult for a driver
to guide the car safely to a stop.
    Given that dealers and customers in China may have less
experience operating and maintaining supercars like Aston
Martins, Palmer said the company should have spelt out to
dealerships what they needed to do.
    "I blame us," Palmer said. "Basically we should have
explicitly said within the service action for the software that
we should re-teach the clutch. We didn't explicitly say that.
Therefore we take responsibility for fixing it."
    Palmer, who joined Aston Martin from Nissan Motor Co in late
2014, said the company knows of 21 instances of potential sudden
engine stall, all in China.
    The fluid pipe connectors on the gearboxes would also be
replaced during the recall, he said.
    Three years ago Aston Martin recalled most of the cars sold
in China that had been built since 2007 after discovering a
problem with defective throttle pedals, which it blamed on
Chinese subcontractors using counterfeit plastic material.

    "TOO DANGEROUS"
    The Beijing branch of China's product quality watchdog - the
General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and
Quarantine (AQSIQ) - in January last year asked the company to
investigate the issue and report back.
    AQSIQ's Defective Product Administrative Center opened its
own investigation in April. Also in April, China'sConsumers
Association issued a statement saying that there were enough
incidents of the Vantage stalling to warrant a recall.
    Carson Guo and his brother James lost their licensed
dealership with Aston Martin in Beijing in December 2016 after
fielding complaints from customers about stalling cars. Of the
eight customers who complained, six had bought Vantages.
    Carson Guo told Reuters several customers waged a campaign
against the British carmaker via Weibo, China's answer to
Twitter, and at least two received a refund.
    One of the knowledgeable individuals close to Aston Martin
said the Guos' contract was terminated due to a "significant
reduction in sales through that outlet".
    Zhang Jia'ao, a 32-year-old partner at a Beijing-based
venture capital firm, did not get a refund.
    He told Reuters he bought his Vantage S coupe from the Guo
dealership for 2.35 million yuan($344,287) in 2013, and sold it
11 months later to a used-car dealer for 1.23 million yuan($180,201) after a series of stalls, some at high speed.
    On one occasion, following a complete loss of power, Zhang
only managed to slow the car down by repeatedly bumping the
tires against the kerb, he said.
    "It was too dangerous," Zhang said.
    Asked about the problems Zhang encountered, Simon Sproule,
chief marketing officer at Aston Martin Lagonda, said: "The
recall will ensure that any issues with this car are fixed."
 ($1 = 0.7879 pound)
 ($1 = 6.8257 Chinese yuan)

 (Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Sonya Hepinstall)
 ((Norihiko.Shirouzu@thomsonreuters.com))

Keywords: CHINA AUTOS/ASTON MARTIN (CORRECTED, EXCLUSIVE, PIX)



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