It may come as no surprise to most people that a lot of appliances and, appliance parts are now produced in China. To that end I'm splitting this article into two parts to explain some things about Chinese (or Asiatic) produced spares and appliances and how it works in the real world.
The Chinese produced appliances or spare parts can be good, the Chinese are perfectly capable of producing good quality kit, as can be seen in other industries where China is used as a manufacturing base.
However, what we tend to see is price erosion, cheaper spares and appliances over time and, for the most part these will come from China. The reason for this is that, as a buyer, you can go looking for one of two things and it is simply a case of balancing the two, price or quality. You cannot have a low price and a high quality.
So, since the appliance market is stagnant with little innovation the only way to steal business from your competitors often is to have a lower price and this is especially so in this age of internet price comparisons. People have a nasty habit of seeking out the lowest possible price, be it on a part or a new appliance and the result of that is manufacturers that will provide for the requirement.
Trouble is, it comes at the cost of quality.
So yes, you get a cheap price on the part or appliance, but you lose quality virtually without exception.
The reason for this is really rather simple, manufacturers or part resellers go to China and ask the factories there to produce X product at Y price or, the lowest possible price. The Chinese oblige and produce to a price.
It's not the fault of the Chinese factories, they've just done as they were asked to do, by consumers in the West who, pretty much, don't give a stuff beyond the lowest price possible for whatever product they are after. Working in the industry this really annoys the appliance engineers as, we know its rubbish product and we know it will break sooner But worst of all is when you hear the phrase, “it should have lasted longer than this and not broken, my last machine lasted xxx years".
Let us put this into perspective for you. If you bought a reasonable quality car for £10K in 1990 you would expect, today, to pay £14-17K for the same sort of car at the very least at the same sort of quality level, perhaps slightly better due to better manufacturing techniques and slicker production.
But, it's still a 40-70% increase in about two decades.
A washing machine, conversely, retailed at about £350 in 1990 would cost you today, for the same specification, about £200. Or at least if you look for the cheapest you can get one for that.
A decrease of almost 50% in the same period.
Cutting out the quality and moving production to the cheapest possible place is what has caused this largely and, in a lot of cases, it's China that the part or the whole appliance comes from.
But most people, who are totally oblivious to this phenomena still continue to demand the lowest possible prices.
Quality, Or Lack Thereof
In the real world what this often means is that the Chinese factories, lacking in their own innovation outside their home market, will often buy in old designs long since consigned to history from Europe and, often, the tooling to make the machines.
Today we have a Chinese manufacturer selling thousands of dishwashers in the UK based on an old design and, old tooling from more than 15 years ago from Indesit. It was a bad design then, made even worse by poor QA and production in China and a design that is, in our opinion, riddled with flaws.
This appears to be borne out by some repairers just refusing to touch these machines, a very high failure rate and the fact that we often find ourselves telling people to buy a new one when they are under two years old.
Or we have washing machines from China that appear to spontaneously combust for no apparent reason. We have had reports of several fires caused by these shoddy products.
Then there are the Chinese refrigeration products which work, sometimes. In order to drive down the price the cheapest possible compressors are used, cabinets are poorly formed and a host of other little nasties lurk there. In short, they're not very good at all.
In fact, we struggle to think of a Chinese produced appliance that actually is any good or does what it should.
Global Players Using China
You would think that manufacturers that have a good, solid brand name that s respected by people would stay well clear of Chinese appliances that fell into this category wouldn't you? It is after all reasonable to assume that a “quality" brand name would protect that name by using superior products and generally better production.
Until a couple of years ago the answer would have been, for the most part, yes.
But not now.
People seeking the lowest price have forced even globally trusted brands such as Electrolux, Bosch, Candy/Hoover and lesser known ones like Teka, Baumatic, CDA, Necht and a raft of others not mentioned, to use China as a manufacturing base.
Some people will be shocked to learn that their supposed "German" appliance will contain a lot of Chinese parts or even be totally made in China.
Deception, Lies Or Just Misleading?
Where this sort of annoys a lot of manufacturers trying to do their best, as well as many spares suppliers that cannot be as cheap as others (ourselves being one) is that just because an appliance or a part doesn't say "Made In China" on the label doesn't mean to say that it pretty much wasn't actually made there. You see the "Made In *****" also known as the Country Of Origin (COO) can be displayed for the country where the product last underwent a significant change or assembly.
UK Customs & Revenue and the Department of Trade & Industry, DTI qualify the COO definition as being:
In general, goods may be considered to have originated in a named country if:
(a) they were wholly produced within that country,
(b) the last substantial operation in the processing or the manufacture of the goods which resulted in the manufacture of a new product, or represented an important stage of manufacture, was carried out in that country (Regulation 2454/93 Annexes 9,10 and 11 give some specific examples).
This is a loophole in the legal system that some manufacturers who, in our opinion, are deceiving people, use to say that a product was produced in a country known for quality product when, in fact, it wasn't.
There appears to be absolutely no percentage of a product that has to be made in the advertised COO, only that "the last substantial operation in the processing or the manufacture" must to determine the COO that can be legally displayed.
To highlight h ow loose this definition is there was a famous designer brand that made handbags which carry the "Made In Italy" COO label. In actual fact all that happened in Italy itself was that the handle of the bag was attached and, under EU legislation, the manufacturer could legally claim that the product was indeed "Made In Italy". The components were actually made in China and shipped to Italy for assembly.
This happens in our industry also and it is extremely difficult, often impossible, to tell where components come from as there is no legal reason for the COO to be displayed on a component, only the finished products.
In effect the law allows manufacturers that are perhaps prepared to be somewhat dishonest to legally do so. UK Whitegoods along with various consumer groups think that this situation is ludicrous and not in the interest of consumers at all.
Who's Fault Is It?
That one's easy, in large part it's probably yours and mine.
Harsh isn't it? But it is also true; it's our fault as people in the UK, Europe and the USA demand lower priced goods and buy products solely price. We find a lot of people going out of their way to find that elusive bargain to save a few pounds when, in reality, that often does more harm than good.
The manufacturers will continue to supply appliances as cheaply as possible, meaning poorer performance and shorter lifespans so long as that's what people want to buy. They will do whatever they can to cut costs in order to compete in the market with everyone else that is playing the same game. If that means ditching quality, service, support and every other little bit that can be pared away then, that's what they will do to hit a price point.
It's what their customers want, low prices first and foremost.
It's only after you've bought that the deficiencies come to light and then, it's often too late to do anything about it. Often you would be told that, had you spent more on this up-range machine, it would do what you wanted or be built a little better but you opted to save and buy an inferior product.
Truly another one of those "caveat emptor" situations, buyer beware. Do your homework and study before making a major purchase such as a new appliance or there's no-one to blame but yourself is really where you are.
China will continue to produce cheap, low quality good so long as that's what they are asked to produce by manufacturers and, basically, all of us as consumers.
Both the manufacturers and China, as well as other low cost of production countries, are only doing as they are asked.
It would be all too easy to say in conclusion just don't buy anything bearing the label "Made In China" or "Made In PRC" (the sneaky way as it stands for People's Republic of China) as that's too simple, although, it has to be said that for now with the way things are it's probably best to avoid these products.
But then what is or isn't made in China or contains a stack of cheaply made bits slung together in the EU somewhere? You can't tell, the current labeling system doesn't allow for it.
There is however one thing, a old adage, to bear in mind when you go out looking for cheap appliances or cheap parts.
If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.