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Consumers irked by goods built to break

The Local · 21 Mar 2013, 12:35

Published: 21 Mar 2013 12:35 GMT+01:00

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Often, manufacturers build in fatal flaws on purpose to boost their own sales, according to a study commissioned by the Green party.

Electronic goods such as printers, headphones, washing machines or electric tooth brushes which last less than one or two years may have been badly made on purpose, or at least knowingly, the study released this week suggested.

For example, parts known to be sensitive to heat, in say dishwashers, are put just where they would get hot, wrote Die Welt newspaper on Wednesday.

"It's a "scandal," said Green MP Dorothea Steiner. Faced with the growing problem of disposing with what Steiner called "immense piles" electronic waste, the party is now calling for tighter rules to stop manufacturers intentionally making goods that are not meant to last.

Rules should ensure that consumers can easily repair goods and exchange individual faulty parts, said the Greens, after the study identified smartphones, notebooks and toothbrushes where batteries cannot be replaced.

Other goods or cases cannot be taken apart because they are glued rather than screwed together.

Regulations governing guarantees and warranties should also be reformed, said Nicole Maisch, Green party spokeswoman on consumer affairs as she presented the report in Berlin on Wednesday.

Industry representatives dismissed the criticism and denied limiting the life spans of their goods.

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"Electronic household goods have long life spans," said Werner Scholz, head of the German association of electronics manufacturers (ZVEI) and added that of Germany's 180 million household devices, almost 75 million were at least a decade old.

"A consumer whose washing machine breaks after a relatively short time will surely buy their next device from another manufacturer," said Scholz.

DPA/The Local/jlb

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

14:16 March 21, 2013 by mits
nothing new here, its called theory of obsolescence. All goods are manufactured to either break down so the consumer buys either from them or their competitor. In any ways manufacturers chug along..
14:53 March 21, 2013 by JDee
software obsolescence is also a scandal, especially when it leads to hardware upgrades, apart from the obvious such as MS Windows upgrade path some Navi manufacturers have broken their devices with map upgrades... and then there's the iphone with the screen that breaks every 2 weeks and battery that cannot be replaced at home etc.. etc.. a pet interest of mine. My suggestion seems radical but I think it's workable, basically offer a financial incentive to companies that wish to go for the build to last segment. VAT should be divided with part of the tax being a retention. Craddle to grave tracking is needed but that can be achieved through existing extended warranty schemes, the companies would have to make the information available for inspection. The ammount of VAT paid and the retention proportion is according to the products expected lifetime as declared by the manufacturer. Where the manufacturer is outside of the juristiction the same responsibility has to be taken by the importer. i.e. if a product is declared as having a lifetime of 2 years you pay 40% VAT, if the manu claims 8 years you pay 30% with a 10% retention, 15 years 25% with a 12% retention, 25 years 20% with a 15% retention. If the product reaches the intended lifttime the retention money is given back to the manufacturer as a bonus. I just made up the numbers very quickly as an example, but something like this could be phased in gradually with cars, high-ticket domestic and electronic products.. of course they will never do it because Germany is one of the most wasteful societies on the planet and the wealth of the country is built on extreme waste, particularly through the car industry.. but good luck to the greens for trying anyway
17:32 March 21, 2013 by ChrisRea
@ JDee

The idea to tax the seller of a household good depending on the product lifetime is interesting, but pretty difficult to implement (especially when you are to control the actual lifetime). Anyway, you cannot do it through VAT, as VAT by definition and concept is supported by the end consumer, the sellers just do the service of collecting it for the state budget.
18:44 March 21, 2013 by JDee
granted, I should really say 'a sales tax' and as you point out it would have to be charged at the factory gate, but if VAT was then applied on that total value it would ammount to the same thing, i.e. ( cost + gate tax ) + VAT. It would make it far more attractive to buy a Merc that would last for 15 years than a cheap car that may rust through after 7, or to go for a Miele instead of some cheaper brand of Washing machine that breaks after 2 years. Win, win, win for the manufacturer, consumer and environment. Maybe the Germans would go for it as it would offer a backdoor protectionism against cheap imports and also kill the trend of German manufacturers lowering quality so that they can compete on price.
02:55 March 22, 2013 by RainerL
So who is going to actively enforce the rules??
05:58 March 22, 2013 by humanporkrind
This is the norm for any product produced in China. Being from the US places like Walmart where Items are produced at a low cost in China and then sold in the store tend to have a less life span than those made in better quality other places in the world. We call Walmart the throw away store. You buy the items at a cheap price knowing with in a year for most things you will throw it away and go buy another. Its wasteful and bad for the environment. I have no problem spending good money on a product just knowing it will last me my entire life.
08:16 March 22, 2013 by TheWonderer
Just read Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" where (in 1949!) he lets the chjaracter Willy Loman wonder why things break as soon as the warranty is over...

So as that was described 64 years ago, it is nor really a new phenomenon or a surprise.

So: Read more books ;-)

09:24 March 22, 2013 by JDee
it's certainly not anything new, the discussion has gone on for decades, but of course the resource net is tightening now. Another alternative is leasing, I think there was an article on BBC about this last week. That's also a good idea. I don't discriminate against China, there is also a lot of total crap produced in Germany, although I'm sure they do this to compete on price, although some of the cheeky sods sell total crap and then still try and charge German quality prices, not to name and shame anyone Brennenstuhl! Learnt that lesson the hard way
14:07 March 22, 2013 by digital47
This is to be expected in the USA where Capitalism is the undisputed King and the conumer just a helpless idiot. Surprised that Germany would allow this. Since I also shop at WalMart, not all things are total crap. You get what you pay for. The problem is that not everybody can afford a $1200 Washing Machine so what do the poorer people do? Germany is an affluent country whereby the U.S. with no middle class in trouble.
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