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Counterfeit tires discovered in genoa; a threat to road safety

Operation Aquaplaning


Five containers with five thousand tires displaying a shipping date prior to their production date, not to mention rather ambiguous winter specifications, were seized in Genoa last July. We spoke with Fabio Bertolotti, director of Assogomma, about the existing laws and the threat these counterfeit tires represent.

Massimo Condolo

Called “Operation Aquaplaning” by the Guardia di Finanza, due to the intended use, on slippery and snow-covered roads, of tires with dubious technical specifications. However, even more than that, the tires seized in the Genoa Voltri port basin, displayed a false production date. We spoke about the action taken by the Guardia di Finanza along with Customs authorities with Fabio Bertolotti, director of Assogomma, the Italian association of manufacturers of rubber and plastic goods, which collaborated with the law enforcement authorities.  


Can you tell us something about these confiscated goods? Where were they coming from and how were they going to be sold?  

“This is by no means the first case, but it was the first operation of this kind to receive international recognition for the type of counterfeiting involved. There were five containers, for a total of 52 tons of goods seized, which means about 5thousand car and truck tires. The country of origin was China and, as reported by the Guardia di Finanza, the destination was a company operating near Milan that would have then distributed the tires, immediately after, through a network of dealers in the area”. 


What were the infringements involved?

“The first problem was the false production date. According to the dates these tires were produced after being shipped. According to International regulations the date of manufacture, normally week and year (for example 0118 stands for the first week in 2018), must be embossed on the inside of the tire. This serves not to establish an expiration date, as this would depend on a vehicle’s mileage, driving style and what kind of roads it will mostly be used on – besides the storage period in a warehouse -, but to trace and recall, if needed, a faulty batch. A false production date will make such an operation impossible. In this specific case, the transgression was discovered as the tires displayed a shipping date from a Chinese port, which was a week earlier than the date of manufacture embossed on the tires. In Italy the “Codice del Consumo” (Consumer Code) regulates these recalls as well as the sanctions to be imposed upon both producers and distributors in an attempt to safeguard the end-users and inform the competent authorities”.     


Have there been other past cases? And did these involve also brand counterfeiting?

“No. We have never recorded cases of brand counterfeiting, at least not recently, just a few haphazard attempts a couple of years ago. On the other hand, we have discovered a case of false 3PMSF markings (alpine pictogram), which indicates that a tire has been tested and approved for extreme winter conditions: we found several retreads, sold online, that bore a strange looking symbol with four mountain peaks and no snow flake; technically speaking this symbol has no meaning and would have deceived only a misinformed buyer. I can recall another important case back in 2009 carried out by the local Milan police department: after checking about 5000 motorbikes and scooters, the police discovered that about 20% of them were using non-approved tires. In this case though, a bug in the system was responsible: the law prohibited the use of non-approved tires but not their production and distribution on the Italian market. Fortunately, in 2010 though this legal flaw was fixed”.


By the way, the goods seized in Genoa bore “Mud and Snow” markings (M+S). Were any charges made for that?

“In this case we need to make a few things clear: differently from the alpine pictogram which, as we have already said, must undergo specific approval tests, M+S markings is a self-certification produced by the manufacturer who declares that a specific tire has the necessary characteristics to deal with snow covered roads. In this case no specific test is required, and the evaluation of the tire is entirely left to the producer. However, it is interesting to note that the authorities discovered that the same tires (which at first glance showed a complete lack of even the basic winter features such as sipes on the tread blocks) were on sale on a few websites as “summer tires”, as if they did not have any winter markings at all”.  


Is there a risk of tires leaving a production plant without the date of manufacture, and that this is then embossed at a later stage?

"Not really, and this is for technical and legal reasons. From a technical-regulatory point of view it is not possible emboss markings on new tires after the production, if not for the abbreviation "DA" which indicates that the tire is technically compliant but has a few appearance defects. Today this practice has fallen into disuse and almost none of the tire makers use it; certainly not the premium brands.

Furthermore, any marking applied at a later stage is quite easy to identify".


What happened to the seized tires? And why were they counterfeited?

"They have been seized and if deemed non-compliant and, even more so if dangerous, will be destroyed. As for the reasons for a false date of manufacture, we have no idea: it may even have been a simple mistake, but one that unfortunately cannot be corrected".


Are there other channels, besides the Internet, where there is a high risk of coming across counterfeit materials or, in any case, with a lower quality and performance than what actually declared? Have there been cases of dishonest traditional traders?

"All sales channels are 'safe' until proven otherwise. Counterfeiting is not a problem that pertains specifically to online channels or other non-traditional channels, such as supermarkets. On the other hand, relying on tire dealers makes the sale of non-compliant goods much more complicated, besides establishing a personal relationship with someone who can always be of help even after the purchase".


What kind of turnover can be estimated for counterfeit tires in Italy?

"A correct estimate is impossible because we do not have enough elements. Law enforcement agencies have been alerted and if other similar incidents should become known, then we may have enough elements to get a precise idea of the dimension of this phenomenon. In this case the first signs were evident already at the beginning of 2017 when other batches with different brands were seized. Thanks to our law enforcement agencies we were able to intercept this important load that, on its own, would have yielded a considerable profit".

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