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A leaflet produced by ALCAR Italia illustrates the legal and safety risks of selling and buying counterfeit or cloned steel wheels: we talked about it with the MD of the Italian subsidiary, Corrado Bergagna

Mino De Rigo

PERIODICALLY the alarm goes off again with stands being taken against counterfeit wheels that more often than not come from the Far East. Speaking out today is ALCAR Italia, a subsidiary of the multinational manufacturer of steel and alloy rims, one of the most affected by counterfeiting. In a new leaflet it points a finger at the phenomenon: a flourishing business in which unscrupulous importers and often unaware buyers represent a constant challenge to legality and, all too frequently, also to road safety.  “It is not our intention to criminalize made in China or made in Asia as a whole” – emphasized Corrado Bergagna, MD of ALCAR Italia – “because there are many excellent manufacturers in the Land of the Dragon, but to draw attention to the serious danger behind the spread of steel rims that often are manufactured in Asia and are unsatisfactory from a constructional and functional point of view”.

Is the phenomenon really widespread?
Gradually it is creating more space for itself. On the one hand you have the low cost of a product that frequently reaches the changeover market at the same price as the originals through covert channels. On the other hand, there is a seasonal demand for steel rims that is fed, especially in the north, by the now mandatory use of winter tyres.  And this is where clones of doubtful quality flourish: rough imitations of wheels onto which it may be impossible to mount original tyres; frequently the profiles and sizes are even incompatible with braking systems.

What would you say to someone who takes the responsibility of supporting free trade and a free market?
What must always be of prime importance is respect for the rules, irrespective of the fact that at last there should be a European directive that will enforce wheel homologation.
This is the reason for setting off the alarm again with our leaflet on safety and legality. The aim is to raise the awareness of tyre specialists and end users by illustrating everything they should pay attention to and avoid being dazzled by the knockdown prices of products that are the same or equivalent only in appearance. It will also help the market to rid itself of counterfeit and dangerous rims.

Presumed savings that will translate into problems?
The initial saving can become an enormous cost if they are recalled or have to be replaced, or even a legal problem as the result of an accident: tyre specialists are the ones who get burned, because they are responsible for the work carried out on the vehicle.

What emerged from the tests on counterfeit and low cost imitations?
Numerous technical anomalies were found and they are extremely dangerous for drivers and others. They ranged from the number of ventilation holes to load capacity, finishes and wheel thickness. Construction differences that might seem irrelevant not only generate cracks and sudden breakage, they could also cause brake system malfunction and reduce the useful life of the rim to a fraction of that guaranteed by an original wheel. Insufficient load capacity leads to premature cracking and bolts could loosen if the paint is too thick. Moreover, valve holes were frequently found to be imperfectly finished and sharp, which could cause the plastic part to break, with sudden and dangerous tyre deflation.

Is there more?
A good example is a product designed with 20 ventilation holes, but its imitation has ten: this is not simply a question of aesthetics, it affects brake cooling and efficiency. Frequently, hubcap holes are out of alignment and the risks multiply. And if equally important differences like run-out values cannot be seen immediately, there are others such as markings that certainly should not be overlooked: from nonexistent homologations to badly copied product codes, from insufficient identification and tracking data to their total absence.

And traceability goes with responsibility...
If an accident is caused by a damaged wheel and the product can be traced (like branded wheels that are bought regularly), the retailer and user are protected by the manufacturer.  If this is not the case, then it is to be hoped that the tyre specialist who is called to answer for the damage is insured. We have seen crashes where sloppily welded rims have literally split open, with the total detachment of the channel and the flange still connected to the wheel  axle.

Which steel rims are the most copied?
There are numerous models: in Italy, Fiat Punto and Opel Corsa wheels are the most copied, but there are also many clones of wheels mounted on city cars and mid-size Volkswagens.

Why did you produce and distribute your own leaflet instead of relying on the sector association?
Given that ALCAR leads the European aftermarket for steel rims and our products are the most copied, it was our duty to inform retailers and end users; the leaflet has already been distributed throughout Europe. Besides, in Italy about 6-700,000 steel wheels a year are sold annually in the aftermarket and over 40% of these are made by ALCAR.

What response to the initiative have you had to date?
The market has shown keen interest, which is also because safety above all is involved. Our work of raising awareness increases knowledge and among tyre specialists we have seen a steady rise in this and the ability to distinguish between quality rims and inferior products.

• Alcar, the presence of steel on the continent
Established in 1984 at Hirtenberg, Austria, as BBV Beteiligungs GmbH, ALCAR’s original business was the local distribution of steel wheels. Its current configuration as a multi-brand group is thanks to rapid expansion in Europe and numerous acquisitions that took it to the top of the market on the Continent.
Today, it is a European network composed of about thirty companies in 14 countries with just under 800 employees. In addition to Europe (which includes Russia), its presence extends to southeast Asia by way of a distribution company that was opened in Singapore in 2008.  It has six proprietary brands, including KFZ – Stahlrad, of steel wheels, over 450 different models made for the aftermarket. Aez, Dotz, Dezent and Enzo are the brand names of the group’s alloy wheels. The Italian subsidiary of ALCAR at Seregno (MB) has been in operation for seven years.

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