Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Why OHVs?

That was the question my husband asked the other day: Why is the OHV industry getting all the media attention on CPSIA, when the apparel industry affects so many more children?

Here are the factors I think make for the perfect storm of media attention that children's OHVs are getting:
  1. All OHV manufacturers pulled children's product at the same time, on short notice. Children's OHVs are (with a few exceptions) made by a small finite number of large manufacturers, all of which were aware of CPSIA just barely in time to pull their children's product from showroom floors on Feb. 10. Contrast that with apparel, which is made by a very large number of small manufacturers, many of which still know nothing about CPSIA. Another contrast could be made with toys: most non-single-craftsman toy manufacturers were aware of CPSIA by Feb. 10 and had already taken proactive steps to make sure they met the lead standards, so for those who didn't pull their product it was more an issue of certification for toys already known to be in line with new lead standards.
  2. OHVs are certain to contain violative amounts of lead. Apparel mostly does not, with the exception of the occasional violative fastener or screenprint. Apparel manufacturers at least had the option of swapping out one kind of button for another, difficult as that is to do mid-production. OHV manufacturers have to use lead in their alloys and for things like battery terminals. The equivalent situation for apparel makers would be if they had banned cotton. Books present no danger from lead, even those with lead content. The special place of books in our society allows them to evoke pathos for innocent victims of CPSIA. Hence their appeal as a rallying point, but that's a whole other post. Toys, sporting goods, and furniture have been safe (lead-wise) for a long, long time, and electronics have been inaccessible for years (which is a good thing, even as I curse it every time my kids break something or need a change of battery). So OHVs make the perfect test case for CPSIA: What do you do with a product that definitely contains lead, can't not contain lead, and still does not poison children?
  3. OHVs are never mouthed by children. Toys, furniture, and apparel frequently are mouthed by at least small children, making a ban on lead in these items more reasonable. The ridiculousness of the lead standard in OHVs highlights CPSIA's excesses, while the ridiculousness CPSIA brings to apparel is a bit harder to grasp.
  4. OHV riders are organized. There are magazines, web sites, events, and some newspapers even have a special column or blog that will cover the issues. What's really interesting is that other industries have these too, and yet the OHV community seems to be more inclusive of those that ride OHVs than the apparel industry is of those who make apparel or the toy industry of those that make toys. But for some reason, getting the apparel industry to all go in one direction is like herding cats. Librarians have formal organizations like the ALA, but the ALA has some polarizing politics of its own and so many librarians pay it no heed.
  5. OHVs appeal to a particularly ignored segment of American society. While books are universally used by children, they are not universally revered. While all children wear apparel, apparel tends to be of heightened interest in coastal cities like New York and Los Angeles where the apparel industry concentrates. But OHVs are a "heartland thing". Banning OHVs brings out the "silent majority" of people who work their middle class trades and just want to go outdoors on weekends. These are not people who typically organize politically, and they have little in common culturally with politicians, so politicians pay them little heed. These are the consumers that "consumer" groups ignore. So when people who would never give them the time of day if they met on the street pass laws that take away their recreation, the emotions run high. They were perfectly willing to let those out-of-touch politicians do their thing, but now they've gone too far.
  6. Dollar values of OHV losses are easier to quantify. Because OHVs are made by a few manufacturers and sold at dealerships, and sales of these are carefully tracked by the manufacturers, it is easier to know exactly how many OHVs go unsold and project how many would have been sold had CPSIA not taken them off the market. The situation with other retail goods is messier. They are made by a decentralized network of tiny suppliers and sold to another decentralized network of stores that carry goods from many suppliers, and they have many more confounding variables in their sale. It is impossible to know what the losses to the apparel industry have been, because (a) the manufacturers sometimes cannot know whether their failure to sell is due to CPSIA or the recession or just an unpopular design, and (b) there is no central organization where manufacturers can report their losses.
What do you think are factors in why OHVs are getting more media attention?