Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The government yesterday warned that children could be injured or killed because of major defects in an all-terrain vehicle produced in China.

The Kazuma Meerkat 50 Youth All-Terrain Vehicle, imported by Kazuma Pacific Inc., of Stafford, Texas, has no front brakes, no parking brake and is missing a neutral indicator light.

In addition, the vehicle can be started in gear and the owner’s manual does not contain complete information on its operation and maintenance, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which is in charge of product recalls.

Wickedpowersports.com, an online retailer, lists the Meerkat 50 at $645 and describes it as “without a doubt the most popular Youth ATV/Kids ATV to come out of China,” and as “recommended” for 6-year-olds.

However, the Texas company is not cooperating with the CPSC, and the agency’s lack of a chairman is preventing it from asking an administrative law judge to force the company to recall the vehicle.

The commission cannot force a recall if a company does not cooperate without going to either an administrative law judge or federal court.

Commission spokesman Scott Wolfson said it has been “many years” since the commission announced a unilateral safety warning about a product in a case in which the company refused to conduct a recall.

The commission said Kazuma Pacific refused to provide complete incident or injury information for any of its products, so the CPSC could not figure out how many children may have been injured.

Between December and May, the company “impeded CPSC’s efforts to protect the safety of children” by refusing to implement a plan to fix the ATV’s defects.

The company did not return telephone or e-mail requests for comment yesterday.

It has sold at least 2,700 Meerkat 50 ATVs and has said it will continue to do so.

Kazuma dealers and Web retailers nationwide have sold the vehicle since 2003 for $525 to $825.

The United States has had numerous problems with Chinese imports, from pets dying from eating pet food containing the chemical melamine to toothpaste tainted with a poisonous chemical used in antifreeze and brake fluid.

The commission has issued recall alerts involving other ATVs in recent months, including products from the United States, China, Japan and Taiwan, but the companies involved have cooperated.

Ordinarily the next step would be for the agency to vote to take the case to an administrative law judge, who could force a recall, but the commission lacks a quorum to vote. The chairmanship is vacant and President Bush’s nominee, Michael Baroody, withdrew his nomination last month.

White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said yesterday that the administration is making progress on the nomination and hopes to fill the position as soon as possible.

Attorney David P. Murray, who represents the Yamaha Motor Corp. U.S.A., said the decision showed the consequence of a large number of companies that have entered the U.S. ATV market in recent years and now account for more than one-third of sales but do not meet the industry’s safety standards.

Most of these companies are from China, but some are from Taiwan, he said.

That situation is “intolerable” he said, and “long-term, it’s just not good for U.S. consumers.”

The CPSC staff recommends that consumers stop using the ATV and demand a refund from the importer or dealer. Incidents can be reported to the CPSC hot line at 800/638-2772 or Web site at www.cpsc.gov.

Mr. Wolfson said yesterday that his agency is continuing to look into foreign-made ATVs to ensure they do not pose a safety risk to riders.

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