No news is good news from 315 gala

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Public relations managers for automakers probably experienced their most nervous night of the year on Wednesday, but they must have given exclamations of joy when their prepared news release was balled up and thrown into the garbage. It was worth celebrating that none of the many automakers were exposed during the annual Consumer Rights Day Gala, hosted by China Central Television. For the first time in years, the word ‘gala’ did not appear as a sarcastic word to them. A PR manager, who asked to remain anonymous, said the program sits atop many carmakers’ list of priorities. Rumors circulated of some executives even skipping the Geneva auto show to prepare their companies for the program and for what to say if they were featured. They won, anyway. One obvious evasive effort was that carmakers, both premium and volume, announced 14 recalls of some 770,000 cars in the two weeks leading up to the show, much higher than in an average two-week period. I am not implying that they were trying to appease anyone to avoid trouble. Instead, I am applauding their attitude and responsibility shown during that period. For each automaker, the largest auto market of China has been a goldmine. As they join the gold rush, they should do it in a responsible and sustainable way. It is getting harder to behave irresponsibly as young customers have a stronger sense of their consumer rights and the authorities are tightening their supervision. Consumers’ growing awareness of quality standards and increasingly easy ways to file complaints, via official or third-party channels, are prompting carmakers to solve their quality problems. The country’s top quality watchdog said it received 16,157 complaints about car quality in 2016 and, on average, one of every two complaints proved to be an indicator of faulty products. Statistics show that more than 11 million faulty cars were recalled in the country last year, more than double the figure in 2015. Of the recalls, more than 75 percent were prompted by the watchdog based on its monitoring of overseas recalls and customer complaints. The percentage means authorities have been working effectively, but it also implies that the automakers were reluctant to do their job. Of course, their job is costly. Statistics from the quality watchdog show that the recalls cost automakers 21 billion yuan ($3.04 billion), but it would surely cost even more if their brands had suffered. After all, nothing can be concealed for long in the age of internet. And, as a byproduct, less anxious PR managers are now more effective in communication.