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Dongfeng Honda pauses deliveries

By Hao Yan | China Daily | Updated: 2018-03-05 10:46
Workers check cars at a Dongfeng Honda production line in Wuhan, Hubei province. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Suspension comes amid reported problems with lubricant levels in CR-V and Civic models, Hao Yan reports.

Dongfeng Honda Automobile late last week acted to immediately halt deliveries of its turbocharged 2018 CR-V and Civic models, in the wake of the rejection of a proposed recall by China's top quality watchdog.

The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine held talks with Dongfeng Honda on Thursday in Beijing.

It told the carmaker to "attach great importance" to the problems reported by customers, and eliminate reported defects in strict accordance with regulatory requirements.

The watchdog declined the auto manufacturer's proposed recall plan for the affected vehicles.

It ordered the company to further improve its planned technology solution, and launch practical and effective measures, according to the China Inspection and Quarantine Times, the newspaper managed by the administration.

The rejected recall plan proposed earlier by Dongfeng Honda was to replace the motor lubricant oil, provide a software upgrade in the electronic control unit, extend the warranty to 6 years or 200,000 kilometers, and conduct further research.

Dongfeng Honda-the Chinese joint venture between Japan's Honda and Dongfeng Motor Group-announced on Friday it would "halt the delivery" of the 2018 CR-Vs in response to problems with lubricant levels, without mentioning any specific defects.

The quality issues in locally made 1.5-liter turbocharged EarthDream engines were brought to center stage last year by a group of owners of the Dongfeng Honda 1.5T 2018 CR-V, the automaker's most popular SUV.

Owners in China's northeastern provinces initially spotted problems with lubricant levels in the 1.5-liter turbocharged EarthDream engines during very cold periods.

The Defective Product Administrative Center under the quality watchdog had received more than 3,612 complaints about Dongfeng Honda engines by the end of January and an additional 2,693 complaints in February.

Dongfeng Honda itself said it received 20,742 complaints nationwide by January, but claimed in February that the lubricant level problems would not cause abnormal wear or shortened the lifespan of its engines, despite warning lights being illuminated on the car dashboard.

"Neither a defect nor a quality problem caused the lubricant level. It does not pose any safety risk," the company said in a statement in January.

Quality Management Deputy Director Sagawa Taizu told the media in January that the issues with the 1.5-liter turbocharged EarthDream engine resulted from extremely cold winter weather in Northeast China, and the lubricant oil levels would return to normal in warmer seasons.

The company's reassurances, however, failed to convince Chinese CR-V owners, because many customers in warmer southern provinces, including Guangdong and Fujian, have joined in the wave of complaints.

One auto industry expert, who did not want to be named, said the problems with the lubricant level were caused by fuel leaking into the crankcases and mixing with lubricant.

He said a test had shown that the problem could cause severe wear to engine components in the long run, despite no immediate safety hazard.

Dongfeng Honda claimed the lubricant level going up within 30 millimeters is "normal", without publishing any local test results.

Yale Zhang, managing director of Shanghai-based Automotive Foresight, said the key of the engine issue is in whether it is critical enough to affect the substance of the powertrain, and the length of time that Dongfeng Honda might take to tackle the problem.

"If the problem does not affect the substance of the engine and company solves the problem properly in a short period of time, it might not generate significant impact to the company," he said.

"After all, the brand appeal of Honda is so strong and the natural aspiration engine models probably won't be affected," Zhang continued.

The 1.5T EarthDream engines are powering more than 10 locally made Honda models including the Dongfeng Honda Civic and GAC Honda Avancier.

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