Australian safety testing forces a recall of the Chinese-built Chery J1 hatchback over the design and integrity of its seats, triggering a war of words between the importer and regulators.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s website says the vehicle has been voluntarily recalled because the integrity of the seat-frame structure may be compromised under certain operating conditions.

“There is an internal non-conformity of both front-seat backrests,” the ACCC says.

Owners of the 1.3L 5-door J1 hatchback are being told to contact their dealers to have both front seats removed and backrest assemblies replaced. New seat-mounting bolts will be used.

Priced at A$10,990 ($11,191), it is Australia’s least-expensive car. The J1 was given three stars in its Australasian New Car Assessment Program crash test after scoring only 16.97 points out of a possible 37.

ANCAP says the J1 has a “high risk of life-threatening chest injury in side impact.”

Chery importer Ateco Automotive spokesman Daniel Cotterill was quoted in the media as saying the J1 would “almost certainly” get a 4-star rating if crash-tested again with the backrest assemblies of its front seats replaced and new seat-mounting bolts fitted.

This prompts ANCAP Chairman Lauchlan McIntosh to express concern over what he calls incorrect statements from Ateco.

“We are disappointed at these comments, particularly given (that) ANCAP works closely with the automotive industry to deliver safer vehicles for Australian motorists,” McIntosh says in a statement.

“The Chery J1 performed poorly in the crash tests – the passenger compartment lost structural integrity in the frontal impact test, providing limited protection from serious chest injury for the driver,” ANCAP says.

“The testing also threw up an issue concerning the design and integrity of the seats in the Chery J1, leading Chery to initiate a voluntary recall of the J1 to replace seat backs across the range.”

McIntosh says he was surprised to hear Cotterill’s comments.

“These comments are clearly incorrect, as the modifications would not impact the overall crash-test result, and the Ateco engineering staff should be aware of this,” he says.

Attempts to contact Ateco officials were unsuccessful and the company’s website is down.