Tens of thousands of potentially dangerous counterfeit car parts destined for Australia have seen seized in a raid in Abu Dhabi, as the United Arab Emirates cracks down on the lucrative trade in fake parts.
According to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, more than 500,000 fake and counterfeit car parts were discovered in a raid on a warehouse and distribution centre in Abu Dhabi's Al Ain city.
In total, 21 truckloads of parts were uncovered – the largest bust of its kind in Abu Dhabi's history – which were valued at over $5.4 million. It followed a joint investigation by Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development and a number of major global automotive companies.
Abu Dhabi authorities have said the haul of fake parts, which bore the logos of 15 car manufacturers, will be destroyed.
Car companies have warned the parts were probably headed to Australia, and could put lives at risk if they made their way into local vehicles.
"Investigators tell us there is a good chance that thousands of these inferior, illegal and dangerous parts were on their way to being fitted to Australian cars," said FCAI chief executive Tony Weber. "We have demonstrated the manufacturing inferiority and danger of counterfeit parts and this black market is risking the safety of drivers, passengers and pedestrians."
Mercedes-Benz Australia corporate communications manager David McCarthy said the industry had been warning about an influx of counterfeit parts for years, and said both the federal government and Border Force had not taken the warnings seriously.
"This is a real and present danger to Australian motorists that has gone on too long," Mr McCarthy said. "The reality is some repairers and insurers are quite happy to put people's safety at risk by using fake parts."
"I am surprised that something like this could happen. It would indicate to me that border controls are not as tight as they should be."
The Abu Dhabi raid follows a similar raid in May when 33,000 counterfeit Toyota parts, including crucial safety parts such as airbag triggering devices, were confiscated in China's Guangzhou city by Chinese police.
Nissan Australia general manager of parts and accessories Peter Gillam said Australia's Border Force "don't know how to identify the difference between a counterfeit part that looks and smells like a genuine part".
"We have large groups of importers bringing in what look like genuine parts, but it's unknown if it's a genuine part," he said. "We don't know the source, we don't know where it comes from. And a lot of these parts do come through the UAE. A lot of these parts are used in the collision repair industry. The parts are bought through large importers, and we are concerned about our customers' safety."
Many fake parts, including body panels, wheels and brake rotors, do not meet Australian standards.
For more than a decade, Australia's multibillion-dollar insurance and smash-repair industry has faced allegations of substandard repairs and use of unsafe counterfeit parts. A NSW parliamentary probe in 2014 came up with 21 recommendations to reform the smash repair industry in that state, but they are yet to be universally adopted.
Craig Douglas, a director at Nationwide Research Group, which is investigating counterfeiting on behalf of major car companies, said UAE-based companies tried to sell fake car parts to Australian workshops via the internet.
"Our experience has shown that in most cases those parts are, in fact, counterfeit," he said, and likened the UAE to "the Hong Kong of the '80s" for fake car parts. "If you ever wanted a fake Rolex, you went to Hong Kong," Mr Douglas said. "Dubai is getting a reputation for fake auto parts."
Stuart Charity, executive director of the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association, which represents repair shops and independent mechanics, defended his industry, and said he doubted the "veracity of many of these claims" about fake parts.
"We believe the issues around counterfeit parts and the availability of them are being overstated by the car industry, and we certainly have our doubts given that a lot of these reports are coming through the car industry's PR agencies," he said.