EU Takes Stand Against Crapification

Posted on by

Reader Micael sent an article summarizing an EU Parliament effort to combat crapification by among other things, pushing for longer product lives and greater ease in product repair.

While this appears to be only a first step, if this initiative gets traction, it could lead to EU manufacturers gaining advantage over their US competitors. Recall how US automakers fighting fuel economy standards worked to their long-term disadvantage, as foreign automakers got better at making vehicles that performed well from a driving and safety perspective while being more parsimonious in fuel usage.

Hopefully EU-based readers can provide input as to whether they think the other key EU-level actors will embrace this plan, and even more important, whether manufacturers are willing to move in this direction. Notice among other things, that it opposes the use of software that forces buyers to go only to manufacturer-connected repair outlets.  If you look at the text of the resolution,  you can see a very long list of “having regard” clauses, which suggests a lot of groundwork has been laid.

This plan goes well beyond what the US “right to repair” advocates are seeking. If the EU moves forward, this should help the US effort considerably.

From EUBusiness:

Europe’s Parliament called on the Commission, Member States and producers Tuesday to take measures to ensure consumers can enjoy durable, high-quality products that can be repaired and upgraded.

At their plenary session in Strasbourg, MEPs said tangible goods and software should be easier to repair and update, and made a plea to tackle built-in obsolescence and make spare parts affordable.

77 per cent of EU consumers would rather repair their goods than buy new ones, according to a 2014 Eurobarometer survey, but they ultimately have to replace or discard them because they are discouraged by the cost of repairs and the level of service provided…

Its recommendations include:

  • robust, easily repairable and good quality products: “minimum resistance criteria” to be established for each product category from the design stage,
  • if a repair takes longer than a month, the guarantee should be extended to match the repair time,
  • member states should give incentives to produce durable and repairable products, boosting repairs and second-hand sales – this could help to create jobs and reduce waste,
  • consumers should have the option of going to an independent repairer: technical, safety or software solutions which prevent repairs from being performed, other than by approved firms or bodies, should be discouraged,
  • essential components, such as batteries and LEDs, should not be fixed into products, unless for safety reasons,
  • spare parts which are indispensable for the proper and safe functioning of the goods should be made available “at a price commensurate with the nature and life-time of the product”,
  • an EU-wide definition of “planned obsolescence” and a system that could test and detect the “built-in obsolescence” should be introduced, as well as “appropriate dissuasive measures for producers”.

The Parliament is asking the Commission to consider a “voluntary European label” covering, in particular, the product’s durability, eco-design features, upgradeability in line with technical progress and reparability.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. albrt

    I hope the rating categories are separate. Seems to me upgradeability and repairability are zero to negatively correlated. The most durable and repairable product is usually all hardware and no software, so not generally upgradeable.

  2. Hiho

    Lovely. I hope this initiative goes forward and does become law.

    Last month my smartphone decided to die, for no apparent reason. Curiously, it was just about 2 years old. No sooner had the warranty expired that it stopped working. What a f*cking coincidence. In the end I decided to buy the lowest-end possible product to replace it, despite being able to afford more expensive ones… but hey, at the end of the day, if I am going to get anyways a shitty product that will not last more than 2 years I’d rather not have more of my rent extracted.

  3. Tomonthebeach

    I have long wondered why German manufacturers reacted negatively to laws and regulations that made their cars safer and more drivable, when those very “requirements” are what made their cars competitive in “free’ markets like the USA. I have a German-made Fein Multimaster, purchased before cheaper models became ubiquitous. I also bought a cheaper American-made Dremel model to leave on my boat for emergencies. The Dremel spends most of its life on the shelf because it lacks the power, precision, and ability to run for hours without overheating. We bought a Cadillac XT5 – first US car purchase in decades. It has already been in the shop 3 times for extensive warranty repairs. Our previous Infiniti’s were only in the shop long enough to rotate tires and change the oil.

    Smart people never spend money. They invest it. Even when buying consumer goods, you can invest in quality or spend less on crap.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Smart people never spend money. They invest it. Even when buying consumer goods, you can invest in quality or spend less on crap.

      Yeah, I think one economist called that the paradox of poverty. The poor end up spending more for basic goods like washing machines or power tools because they can only buy the cheapest (often on expensive credit) and so end up in an endless cycle of replacing broken crap, while people with a bit more money can buy good stuff that lasts for years if they take care of it.

      1. Hiho

        That was before. Now even premium brands have crapificated… perhaps it is that the same guys are manufacturing everything and then the brand owner simply puts his label on the shit.

        Take for example samsung, which is supposed to be a reliable company with good products: phones explote, washmachines throw flying doors that can behead you…

        Toyota: another supposedly reliable company, this one with fine japanese engineering… what happened with the airbags?

        German cars: the dieselgate, yeah well it is.not a safety issue but still as a buyer you are being cheated.

        And I have bought some t-shirts for 2 euros that have lasted several years more than crappy 50-euros ones.

        The perverse logic driving capitalism: that is, the worst possible product at the highest possible price, has already “tricled down” and it seems that every single company is following the same way.

        1. a different chris

          One big underlying problem is, as usual, us engineers. If we design an ideal tool for some job…then perfect the manufacturing of such… then uh we do what? So we don’t really acknowledge the fact that our sons and granddaughters don’t need any more engineering.

        2. Toske

          Yes, I’ve noticed this. The few remaining brands that were still reliable some years ago have been rapidly joining the ranks of the unreliable as of late. Like Hiho above, I’ve resorted to buying cheap junk now that my only other option is to buy expensive junk.

          1. Lord Koos

            Buying second-hand is an alternative, especially if you live near a city that has some wealth, where the more well-off folks buy new all the time and get rid of perfectly good used stuff. When I lived in Seattle I furnished my entire kitchen from Craigslist — fridge, gas/electric range, washer & dryer combo, etc. Jenn-Air, Amana, Kenmore appliances, etc for about 25% the cost of new. Some of the items were in perfect condition. Of course that was about 6 years ago, things have gotten more crapified since that time. I think in the future people will be out looking for consumer goods that don’t have wifi chips in them. Speaking of that —

        3. Yves Smith Post author

          My fashionista friends tell me it has also happened in high end clothing. You spend 3x+ in real terms compared to what you’d pay for top names in the 1980s (Hermes, Chanel, etc) and you get worse fabrics and tailoring.

          I’ve taken to shopping some on eBay with occasional great scores and not expensive misses. The old stuff is way better but hard to find things that are only minimally worn that are also serious vintage clothing.

          1. Inode_buddha

            I do everything on ebay (durable goods) and Salvation Army (vintage work clothing, very well made). Occasional craiglist for bulky/heavy items. The only things I buy new are underwear (for obvious reasons) razor blades and work boots — good ones, not walmart crap.

            I *refuse* to give another nickel or a second of my life to those who are gutting our economy via crapification and offshoring. Made this choice about 4 years ago, and getting better at it all the time: not putting anything in to those who already got paid the first time.

        4. Pespi

          Toyota and BMW have spent the last 10 years wringing every single drop of “quality, and reliability” equity out of their brands.

          Hondas are reliable. Toyotas are no longer. The True Delta doesn’t lie.
          BMW’s used to be made by germans making a fair wage, now they’re made by czechs for low wages.

          Toyotas are made in non unions shops in the American south that pay fuck all compared to a UAW shop. Some BMWs are as well.

          The stock price went up, that’s what’s important

  4. Dan

    Ethics needs to be part of the training of engineers. Part of the problem is that what you call “crapification” is taught to engineering students as a good practice. Without a wholesale reform of engineering education there is not much that can be done to stop them.

      1. Toske

        Indeed, engineers generally take pride in their work and hate putting out a crappy product. It’s the unrealistic cost and time restrictions placed on them by executives which force them to cut corners.

    1. John Wright

      I work in the electronics industry and was completely unaware that crapification is being taught in engineering school.

      I don’t remember this being taught during my engineering schooling (University of California).

      Engineering is frequently involved with designing an acceptable product at an acceptable price and that probably drives some of the low quality consumer goods on the market place.

      But I see this as a management decision, not an engineering decision,

      At the more industrial product level, products are designed with components that are used conservatively and go through costly environmental testing, usage testing and product safety testing to ensure products will have an acceptable product life.

      Engineers do not want to damage the corporation’s bottom line via unanticipated warranty costs or legal liability issues.

      Then there is the element that engineers, in my experience, want to be proud of their design efforts.

      Could you give an example of how “crapification” is taught to new engineering graduates during their coursework?

      Is it part of a required course?

    2. Hiho

      I am engineer aswell and I agree with synoia, the problem is management.

      Mba’s an business degrees are to blame. After all, they only teach how to inflate the stock price via stock buybacks and the like.

      I have unfortunately taken a MBA and I can recall a case study we did in one lesson. We had to figure how to improve the profit per action of a ficticious company. Coming from technical backgrounds we the students started talking about complex solutions involving re-engineering and industrial engineering… and the teacher said: forget all that, buying back your own stock is much easier.

      Yeah I know the example is not about crapification, but is really clarifying. If future managers are taught this shit, how do you expect the economy to work?

      1. JTFaraday

        Financialization crapified the business schools. Even in the early-mid 1990s finance courses were a small part of the curriculum. Not so anymore.

        The US economy is going to be in the crapper for a long time to come.

      2. gepay

        I have read that “the sausage game” was taught at Harvard business school. One makes a tasty high quality sausage using decent meat and high quality seasonings. One continues that formula until your share of the market reaches equilibrium. Then over time one “crapifies” it using cheaper and cheaper ingredients. There is a long lag time before customers notice that they are not buying the same product that made them like and buy. Profits go up. Then when the market share starts to drop. the company is closed.

    3. Jer Bear

      what a load of crap. crapification may be taught to management, marketing and sales, but not to engineers.

        1. Tim

          It’s directed to engineers via management and marketing requirements. Big difference.

          Steve Jobs died, Apple is simply reverting to the guidance and standards of more typical management.

  5. Kat

    This is completely in line with existing consumer protection and environmental legislation efforts by the EU, such as the Ecodesign Directive or the Common Charger Campaign to combat electronic waste.

    The EU has broad authority to legislate in the area of consumer protection and environmental affairs and it would be a logical continuation of existing legislation.

    That said, it does not appear to be an Article 225 resolution, so for now it appears to be more of a political statement of intent, not an initiative to get actual legislative efforts underway.

  6. Anti Schmoo

    U.S. products for the most part are crap; I gave up on cars in 1966 and bought VW’s, Volvos, BMW, and VW. !986 I bought a Chevy Eurosport; what a joke; as soon as the warrenty expired the trouble started. Dumped it after a year for another VW.
    I have not bought anything Usian since and will contiue to do so.
    Kudos to the EU for their actions to stop crapification of their products; quality is true economy and as some one above pointed out; the poor get trapped buying junck; over, and over, and over again til they die.

    1. Carolinian

      So was your Chevy notably cheaper, and therefore more attractive to poor people, than the VW you preferred? As for the those complaining about cheap washing machines, do they think there is a special cheap washing machine factory to turn out products for poor people? Here’s suggesting that to the degree that there is crapification it probably applies to expensive products as well as inexpensive and therefore a $600 iPhone may not last any longer than a sub $100 Chinese brand. In the electronics industry in particular the upgrade cycle is the very nature of the business so the repairability of product that may soon be obsolete is less of a factor. Cars of course are different since they are very expensive and the technology is fairly mature. So it really depends on what kind of product you are talking about. A one size fits all rule may not make much sense.

      1. TimH

        I’ve owned and been happy with two Chevy Malibus in sequence. Not the best, not the most reliable, but easy and cheap to maintain. In the same timeframe, one friend’s BMW had a transmission failure at 9 years and 105k miles which was an uneconomic repair. My girlfriend’s 2007 Mercedes M350 has the engine countershaft wear manufacturing fault which Mercedes had to be class action sued to get some cars fixed for free. Her car is outside the free fix miles limit.

        OTOH, I’m very happy with my one year VW Golf.

      2. Knifecatcher

        Ooh, washing machines. Now THERE’S a prime example of crapification. The robust, durable, effective, and repairable agitator style machines used by my mom and grandma have been more or less shoved into the trash in favor of “high efficiency” front loaders. These pieces of crap have zillions of lights and buttons but don’t clean nearly as well and are good for only a few years before something electronic breaks and turns it into a giant paperweight. One thing they are very good at is growing mold.

        I dumped my front loader a couple years ago in favor of a dirt cheap old-school agitator washer and haven’t looked back.

        1. Ray Blaak

          My front loader (LG) seems to work well enough, had it for about 3 years now. Time will tell of course. Mind you it replaced an old top loader model that was at least 20 years old.

          An important thing for me, however, is that the front loader uses much less water, which matters more to me now that the water is metered, droughts happen more often, etc.

          1. RorieRiveter

            I bought a front loading Bosch high efficiency w/d set twenty years ago for the sake efficiency, and it cleaned my clothes better than any agitator machine ever could. I’m in construction and farming, I beat the crap out of my work clothes. I’d never seen them emerge as clean from a top loading Kenmore as they did from that Bosch machine.

            And I could fix it– not with parts supplied in the US, mind you, which cost on the order of 10x more than parts available in Britain. Lucky for me the language is the same. So I ordered parts from England for a fraction of the cost of getting parts in the US and kept my Bosch machines running beautifully for 20 years.

            I only upgraded– to larger Bosch machines– after the control panel went, and replacement for that was about $150. plus shipping from England, so I finally upgraded. Can’t praise these machines enough. German engineering. Love it!

  7. Larry

    Smartphones are the biggest offenders as replacing batteries is prohibitively expensive in top end models. Consumers could easily get another year or two out of their devices with simple battery replacement.

    1. TimH

      It’s a pain, but you’ll get the longest life from the LiIon battery if you try to keep the charge level between about 40% and 80%. Definately avoid being above 95% charge, as the very high cell voltage at that point (4 to 4.2V) degrades life at the expense of maximising enery stored.

    2. RorieRiveter

      My problem with my *smart* phone is that it is waaayyy smarter than I need. It’s a silly iPhone, does a zillion things I couldn’t care less about, and won’t even allow me to complete simple functions without interrupting me to suggest other options. I hate this piece of total sh*t. And yet I need it to compete in the business world. Ugh.

  8. Alejandro

    Then there’s the neoliberal crapification of language, e.g., conflating “affordability” with “merit”, “being smart” with “making money” etc….”rationalizing” the greed that feeds the need to crapify…mostly seemingly missing the context of parasitic rent extraction, profiteering, the pernicious effects of usury, ‘private’ bezzle resulting from the propinquity to the ‘public’ coffer etc…

  9. Peter Van Erp

    The Samuel Vines theory of shoes barely works: almost all shoes are have molded soles which cannot be replaced. My last pair of Ecco mocs had molded soles which appeared to be sewn on, but were actually not repairable, despite the uppers still being in great shape. Only really high end shoes can have their soles replaced.

  10. a different chris

    I have an old house on a large rural lot. In a certain place, random stuff keeps turning up (glass, an actual 1/4 electric motor) etc. Turns out they had no garbage collection here in the first half of the 20th century. So they buried the stuff.

    I’m beginning to wonder if maybe we should outlaw garbage collection. The only problem with that, of course, are cars. If you don’t collect somebody’s garbage they will find some pristine back road to dump it on. They do anyway around here despite a reasonable rate. Ah well. Death penalty maybe?

    1. CD

      I’ve read that every so often they unearth an old car with a body inside. A New Jersey burial?

  11. petal

    My apartment complex maintenance guy recently(I’m in the US) went into every unit to check and see if they still had the same appliances(fridge/freezer, stove/oven, dishwasher) as when the apartments were built. Mine was the only unit that still had the originals. All of the appliances in all of the other units had had to be replaced. The apartment complex is only 9 years old. It’s ridiculous. It never used to be like this.

  12. CD

    Is the EU action actually against Chinese products rather than the European? Chinese manufacturers are expert at lowering quality in ways not quickly evident so as to increase profits.

    The EU, like the US, is inundated with Chinese products, so perhaps these new laws and regs are aimed at the Chinese.

    If this is the case, it will make Chinese products sold in the US stronger against competing US products. Will the Chinese of the 2010s, then, be the Japanese of the 1980?

  13. Lord Koos

    “If the EU moves forward, this should help the US effort considerably.”

    I wouldn’t be too sanguine about that… if the European model of health care could/would not be copied in the USA, why would it work for this? If US companies continue to press Chinese manufacturers for the lowest possible price point, things will still be crap…

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      It costs money to go on airplanes to get medical treatment, and you certainly can’t take an ambulance to France or even Canada if you have an emergency.

      By contrast, Americans can and will buy some competing European goods and use plug adapters. I would. I did the reverse in Oz, taking a US dressmakers’ steamer I liked (you couldn’t find anything comparable) and later carrying in a step-down converter (you needed one that weighted about 20 lbs to handle the load, it was cheap to buy in the US but prohibitive to ship, so I checked it).

  14. RickM

    Our first “big” purchase after child #1 in 1984 was a heavy duty Kenmore washing machine (probably made by Whirlpool?). With two minor repairs, it lasted 18 years through almost daily use. Since 2002 we have been through three washing machines and are on our fourth. It is the lowest of the low-end Amana. Works fine. For now.

    We have not had an American car since 1986. First with a Mazda and then a Honda Civic and Accord, all we have done is change the oil and the tires and brake pads, plus replace timing belts at 100K miles…But I do hear things about the new models. American engineering? And I’m talking about the “re-engineering the company” version of financial engineering (sic) bullshit that has been all the rage for going on 30 years now.

    For men’s shoes: Allen Edmonds, made in Wisconsin, and most styles can be repaired. Watch for their semi-regular clearance sales! Women’s shoes? Nothing.

  15. homeroid

    What happened to Starrett co. They made the best measuring tools. Quality has dropped over the years. How can i make a nice piece of furniture if i cannot trust my tools. I have a miter gauge that is just wrong. Before my shop burnt i had good tools. Now it’s deal with what you can get.

    1. John Wright

      Starrett has both USA and overseas plants (including Brazil, Scotland and China)

      When I visited some friends in western Massachusetts (Summer 2014?), we went to the Starrett Athol, MA plant and asked for a tour. A Starrett employee probably spent more than an hour showing us the different aspects of their manufacturing plant. It seemed to me the workers were experienced and wanted to do good work.

      As I remember, at this plant (which is also corporate headquarters) they made micrometers, calipers, squares and other hand tools.

      Some years ago I remember having a defective Starrett electronic tape measure that they replaced under warranty. They wanted the failed one back for diagnostic purposes, which is a good sign they wanted to enforce quality production.

      Starrett will not survive as a mechanical measurement company if it becomes known for untrustworthy measurements.

      Your miter gauge could even be a counterfeit product.

      Have you tried contacting Starrett with your complaint?

  16. Pepsi

    Australia has really good consumer protection laws. You know the fake guarantees on tools and appliances, “X year guarantee,” “lifetime guarantee,” *but you can’t take it back to the store, you have to call the company, and pay to mail it to them, unless they decide the store that sold it to you isn’t the right store, then they say no, and that guarantee means a whole lot of nothing.

    In Australia if your guaranteed drill bucks its chuck, you drag it back to the store and they give you a new one, by law.
    I forget the name of the piece of legislation, and google, as usual, isn’t helping.

Comments are closed.