China Vizio Syndrome

By Anonymous

The following is a guest post from Alliance for American Manufacuring (AAM) intern David Arouca:

A few weeks ago my housemates and I decided to pitch in for a new TV. We did our share of research and decided on a 37” LCD Vizio HDTV. The fact that Vizio is an American-based company was the “icing on the cake” if you will.

A day or two after purchasing the T.V. online I noticed that was doing a mass-sale of the refurbished version of the Vizio we had just ordered. I was a little disheartened since they were going for $200 less than what we paid but I stomached the loss believing that ours would be a brand-new, long-lasting product with no need for a warranty (it does have one).

Our T.V. arrived a week ago today (Monday) and we were very excited. We set up the T.V. and I was watching HiDef baseball in no time (I’m a baseball nut). The first week was a couch-potatoing, tube-glaring, Baseball Tonight-obsessing wonder with a picture that allows you to see every bump of A-Rod’s razor burn as he homers (or strikes out if you’re not a pinstripes fan).

We. Were. Happy.

Then, at approximately 4:37 p.m., Saturday afternoon, my housemate was watching the T.V. when a bright FLASH and a loud POP announced the demise of our beloved machine.

We. Were. Angry.

While we certainly expect this to happen to normal non-tech-savvy consumers, we thought due to our prior research and – perhaps overestimated – technical know-how that we would be spared such inconveniences.

We. Were. Wrong.

I should have known when I saw the deal that there would be higher chance of my T.V. having a “pre-existing condition” not-covered by “Obamacare.” This is sometimes the case whenever there are mass-sales of electronics on sites like Woot or Groupon.

After some additional research on Vizio, I found that even though Vizio is based in Irvine, CA, as of 2007 they only employed 85 people in the States (that includes tech support to the Board members)!!! That’s a staggeringly low figure considering they were, and still are, the largest seller of HDTVs in the U.S. All of Vizio’s manufacturing and assembly is done by the cheapest of the cheap in China and they always, always contract their work out to the lowest bidder.

The all-too-common result of this all-too-common story: we silly Americans, who think we’re smarter than everyone because we got some amazing price on a product, lose out when our new Made-in-China toy shorts-out/breaks-down/poisons us in the first five minutes.

While there are many problems to address with regards to trading with China, there are certain areas that deserve a brighter spotlight than others. My HDTV problem may be infuriating but it doesn’t physically harm people like some Chinese imports. My best friend from college was a biochemistry major who now works at a chemical and mineral testing company in New York state. His job is to test imported minerals from China for impurities and contaminants. Last time we spoke he expressed his disgust over the high rate of positive tests for poisonous substances like lead, cadmium, and arsenic. Why does this matter? Because the minerals this company tests go directly into products such as baby food and Vitamin Water. Last week, The Economist wrote about Taiwan’s biggest food scare to date. Initially, the industrial plasticizer contaminants were found to have poisoned only sports drinks and soft drinks. It was later revealed that the toxic chemicals were found in a wide range of foods and drinks prompting many surrounding nations to pull the imported products from their shelves.

Again, this story can be retold across multiple industries: most famously children’s toys. Countless Chinese-made toys have been recalled because they break apart into razorblade-like pieces useful for not only poking a child’s eye out but perhaps doubling as a prison shank. Other Made-in-China toys use paint contaminated with some of the previously mentioned poisons so three licks of your kid’s favorite Power Ranger equals the toxicity levels of the little red pills they give Astronauts should they ever get lost in space.

Something’s wrong here. I’m definitely a believer in free market system, but if that system comes at the cost of outsourced American jobs and crappy, sometimes harmful products then that system has failed. The free market should not come without restrictions and safeguards to protect Americans from the cheapness of the Chinese manufacturer and the carelessness of their regulators.

I realize that my television woes are far from the China-related horror stories or the outsourcing incidents that usually result in massive layoffs. Still, I hope this story showcases one of the more common –albeit small – annoyances of buying cheap foreign-made products. Unfortunately American consumers don’t have much of a choice right now since nearly all electronics are made across the Pacific anyway.

After calling one of Vizio’s 85 employees and hearing how “strange” it was that my TV broke the first week (he probably expected it make it to Week 3), this guy told me that they would send a technician out to fix it…… about 3 weeks. I guess they have to manufacture and import their technicians from China too.