In response to the increasing number of headline grabbing reports of hoverboards made in China unexpectedly exploding and catching fire, Amazon has made the decision to begin pulling the self-balancing scooters from its online shelves.
Many of the hoverboards sold on Amazon have already been removed, including all five models once reviewed by BestReviews.com. That site now warns consumers that “for the time being, we are not recommending any hoverboards until they are proven to be safe”, the Guardian reports.
Another seller, Swagway, stated that the online retailer Amazon has started questioning makers about their safety standards and requiring sellers to provide documents proving that their products “are compliant with applicable safety standards,” with particular focus on the battery and chargers for the units.
Although levitating hoverboards just like Marty McFly’s iconic gadget in Back to the Future II are unfortunately not a thing just yet, the fashionable two wheeled scooters have exploded in popularity (pun intended), spurred on by celebrity interest in them, including from the likes of Justin Bieber.
Most are manufactured cheaply in bulk in China before being purchased in bulk by resellers who apply their own cosmetic retouching and branding. In the month of October alone, 400,000 boards shipped from the cheap tech manufacturing hub of Shenzhen.
Disputes over the product’s intellectual property status has contributed to a free-for-all to make an easy profit and allowed irresponsible manufacturers to exploit high demand and attempt to flood the market with cheap and sometimes dangerous products.
China as we all know quickly jumps on consumer trends but often without much quality control, and in turn this has raised serious questions about the regulation of the devices and the existence of proper safety standards.
“All the hoverboards in the US are sold by importers, who barely even know the factories they are buying it from,” Andrew “Bunnie” Huang, a hardware analyst based in Singapore, told Quartz. “In a hyper-competitive market that’s driven by a fad, taking six months to do a comprehensive testing program for safety means you’re missing out on a lot of business.”
Despite stricter regulations and also some official inspections the situation is also worrying in the UK. Of 17,000 hoverboards inspected by the UK’s National Trading Standards since October, 15,000, or 88%, were deemed “unsafe,” because of “issues with the plug, cabling, charger, battery, or the cut-off switch within the board, which often fails,” the standards agency said.
While it would be easy to point the finger at Chinese manufacturers for all the problems, industry experts are quick to point out that importers share at least as much of the blame.
“Chinese manufacturers operate according to a ‘make to order approach,’” Fredrik Gronkvist, a consultant who helps foreign vendors source products from China, told Quartz. “If you fail to communicate the regulations to which a product must be compliant, it will not be.”
The unregulated, fad and profit driven state of the industry means for now at least, it really is all down to consumers to weigh up the potential dangers of buying a cheap “Made in China” hoverboard.
By Daniel Paul