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Small importers blast new car rules

On the outer: Niche vehicles such as the Nissan Elgrand will be off the table when proposed new vehicle import rules kick in in 2019.

Changes to car import rules will decimate 142 businesses, say importers

16 Aug 2017

DRAFT changes to Australia’s vehicle importation rules would decimate small independent vehicle import businesses and halve the number of vehicles they import, according to the Australian Imported Motor Vehicle Industry Association (AIMVIA).

Association president Jack Sandher described the amendments to the federal Road Vehicles Standards Act as a massive blow to 142 small-to-medium independent enterprises involved in collectively importing between 4000 and 5000 vehicles a year.

“It will mean the decimation of our industry – there’s no other way to describe it,” he said.

“The association and its board has devoted hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours to regular meetings with politicians and departmental staff across Australia over the last four years, only to be ignored at the finish line.

“At a time when the automotive industry is already shrinking, it is ludicrous that the ‘government for small business’ is prepared to watch 142 small-to-medium enterprises go to the wall for the sake of protecting the profits of overseas vehicle manufacturers.”

Wide-ranging changes to the vehicle import laws were foreshadowed by federal urban infrastructure minister Paul Fletcher in Canberra yesterday.

The proposed new rules, in a bill to be put to parliament later this year, in part effectively ban parallel imports of mainstream vehicles from Japan and the United Kingdom, while still allowing enthusiast and specialty vehicles.

Small importers currently import right-hand-drive vehicles such as Nissan Elgrand and Toyota Vellfire people-movers for sale to Australian motorists.

AIMVIA had lobbied the federal government to free up import rules further to allow personal imports of new vehicles from Japan and the UK, arguing that such a move would place downward pressure on new-vehicle prices in Australia and thus benefit consumers – a view publicly supported by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

Motor manufacturers mounted a counter argument, saying such unfettered imports could not be allowed without opening up a pandora’s box of warranty, safety recall and other consumer issues.

In the end, the government has largely sided with the manufacturers, saying the modest benefit of price reductions of about 2.0 per cent was outweighed by the cost and complexity of ensuring consumer protection systems that needed to be put in place.

The government has named six criteria under which private importers can import vehicles, but these criteria favour enthusiast vehicles, including high-performance and rare cars, as well as speciality vehicles such as mobility vehicles and campers.

Mr Sandher, who is the co-owner of Top Secret Imports in Blacktown, New South Wales, said the ban on personal new-car imports and changes to the Specialist and Enthusiast Vehicle Scheme (SEVS) was a double blow to the industry.

He said that at its peak in 2008-9, the independent industry imported up to 12,000 vehicles a year.

He said that had slipped to 4000-5000 a year, but that would be cut by 50 per cent under the new rules to be introduced in 2019.

“Despite recommendations from two separate independent reviews and other government-commissioned reports, the federal government has capitulated to heavy lobbying by vested interests, scrapping the option for private citizens to import their own new vehicles from overseas,” he said.

“Without this competition in the marketplace, Australians will continue to pay some of the highest retail prices for vehicles in the western world.”

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