Counterfeiting may hit consumer goods manufacturers in the wallet, but when counterfeit and knock-off parts are used to repair or maintain tractor-trailers, buses and other commercial vehicles, particularly within the braking system, they raise a legitimate concern for highway safety.
That's what Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems LLC conveyed to groups of business, community and government leaders at two recent national anti-counterfeiting conferences. Bendix presented alongside consumer brands such as Louis Vuitton, Oakley, Proctor & Gamble and New Balance at events organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Legal IQ, respectively. Bendix also represented the transportation industry in a segment on the dangers of counterfeit parts on ABC's Good Morning America on Oct. 30.
The proliferation of inferior, knock-off parts being sold—many times unwittingly—in the United States is a growing problem. The Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA) estimates that counterfeiting has a $12 billion impact on the transportation industry annually. Counterfeiting damages legitimate companies' brand equity and can negatively impact vehicle performance and, potentially, highway safety.
When a knock-off of a Bendix product fails prematurely, there is a natural perception that the supposed Bendix product has not performed as expected. Our reputation is built on generations of products that are highly engineered and validated through extensive testing. We go to great lengths to ensure that each product withstands the demanding operating conditions of commercial vehicle use. Our customers expect that from us.
Counterfeiters aren't taking these steps. They often take manufacturing shortcuts. They frequently use inferior materials.
There's not the same level of quality control, so you can never be certain what you are getting. We've actually seen knock-off air dryers that were filled with kitty litter instead of desiccant.
In another example, a technician detected air flow problems after installing a knock-off air valve sold as a Bendix replacement. Turns out the valve's control port was not drilled all the way through, a critical flaw to the very function of the valve. If used in service, the valve could have compromised the vehicle's braking ability by 70 percent.
Bendix has implemented a comprehensive approach to fight back against counterfeiters that encompasses intellectual property protection, enforcement, and awareness and education. Specifically, it includes:
- Patent and trademark-infringement legal actions
- Far-reaching customer- and industry-awareness campaigns
- Circulating Bendix trademark usage guidelines to distributors and dealers and enforcing intellectual property compliance
- Removing infringing products and literature from offending parties' trade show exhibits
- Many other initiatives
We've commonly experienced people returning failed products and only then discovering they're knock-offs, and therefore not under warranty. Without looking closely, a consumer could easily miss the logos and other unique identifying marks that original equipment manufacturers cast into their products. Manufacturing codes and part number nomenclature on the box are also easily, and frequently, duplicated by counterfeiters in an attempt to further confuse the consumer.
However, there are simple steps everyone can take to ensure the part being purchased is genuine:
- Work with authorized dealers and distributors of your manufacturers' products
- Specify genuine replacement parts every time and
- Check for genuine product markings. In the case of Bendix, look for our logo on the box and on the part itself.
The counterfeit and knock-off parts issue is among the highest priority action items among our executive leadership. We continue to make significant, ongoing investment to protect our intellectual property, and we've begun to see measurable results.
The sophistication of counterfeit operations has improved to the point of making it difficult for customers to discern real from fake. But in terms of performance, quality and actual costs, there are obvious differences.
This issue is bigger than any one company. To affect real change and to make the roads safer we all need to do our part—manufacturers, distributors and end users.
Andrew Cifranic is Brand Manager for Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems LLC, member of the Munich, Germany-based Knorr-Bremse Group. During his tenure with Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, Andrew has held numerous roles including Marketing Analyst, Regional Sales Representative, Account Manager, and Global Sales Planning Coordinator. Andrew is a member of the Motor & Equipment Manufacturer's Association (MEMA) Brand Protection Council.