Counterfeiting: it sounds like something reminiscent of a spy movie, where some evil henchman would be hunched and sweating over a machine producing bill after bill—piles of green paper with no commercial worth. Yet in the truck parts industry the problem is anything but fiction, and the currency is a variety of vehicle accessories, most notably lighting products.
The estimate of the numbers of counterfeit products flooding the market varies, but one thing is for certain—the manufacturers who are concerned with valid products that fit legal safety standards are taking a major financial hit as these inferior products swallow their business.
The Transportation Safety Equipment Institute (TSEI) is a non-profit trade association that promotes the development of advanced performance standards and federal and state government and international regulations for the commercial vehicular safety equipment industry. TSEI's efforts focus on promoting the integrity of its members and the industry through product certification, testing, government enforcement and compliance activities.
TSEI is involved with safety-related issues on behalf of both the OEM and aftermarket, with the foundation of the organization focuses on highway safety. In addition to conducting research and testing, TSEI also serves as a technical forum for those in the industry to address safety concerns.
TSEI is a Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA) managed trade association.
COMPLIANCY VS. COUNTERFEITING
TSEI is involved in the process of finding both counterfeit products and non-compliant parts and accessories, although the two are not necessarily interchangeable. Brian Duggan, director of trade and commercial policy for MEMA, explains the difference between the two categories.
"There are two separate issues you've got. Non-compliance is a violation of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In other words, if you take the light and you test it and it doesn't meet the NHTSA standard and it's supposed to be installed on a car or a truck, then it's not compliant. It's not a criminal matter, but you did violate the federal safety standards and you have to get those lights off the market," Duggan explains.
"The counterfeiting issue is a criminal and civil matter," he says. "If they violate your trademark, a company can issue a cease and desist order. Trademark violation is also a criminal matter—in other words, it's not just a matter of me or a company suing the infringer—they can actually bring it to the attention of the federal and state authorities."
TAKING A FAKE TO TASK
"If they find a light in the market that they think is non-compliant, a lot of times the members of this group will bring it back and do round-robin testing in their own labs," Duggan explains. "They're just companies—they can't enforce the law, but they can bring it to the attention of regulators and say 'we've tested it, perhaps you should, too, because it failed.' And then the government has to take it from there. There's a number of ways that they can do that. They can actually test the light, they can contact the manufacturer, or—let's say it was manufactured outside of the United States—they can contact the fellows who import it and sell it and say, 'Can you prove to us that this light complies?'"
Companies who focus specifically on the lighting market, such as Truck-Lite, have seen the most dramatic effects from the emergence of counterfeit lighting. Brad Van Riper, vice president of research and development for Truck-Lite, explains how the effects are rippling and, often, indeterminable.
"The emergence of counterfeit and non-compliant lighting products has affected our product sales, as we have been displaced completely in some markets—like the local truck stop suppliers—where we used to be a dominant player," Van Riper says.