Used Car Import Debate Intensifies

An article run by Carsguide about the risks and pitfalls of importing used vehicles on a large-scale into Australia has attracted much attention – including our Kiwi cousins.

The Carsguide article contends that while on the surface imported used cars may seem like a good idea, in reality they would have a damaging impact on consumers as well as the overall Australian car market.
This is a sentiment echoed by the AADA which has, in previous issues of Automotive Dealer, outlined the various and severe disadvantages that relaxing bans on large-scale imports could create.

However, in a recent article by online editorial website Autotalk, Carsguide is accused of getting its facts wrong, with the author asserting that the Carsguide piece was a ‘beat-up of the trade by Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries boss Tony Weber’.

Penned by Autotalk Managing Editor Richard Edwards, the New-Zealander mentions that as a Kiwi, he has firsthand insight and experience into the used import trade.

He goes on to admit that while ‘new vehicle sales are only now reaching the levels of the early 1980s’ in New Zealand, tight restrictions on the purchase of new vehicles and inflated prices played a major role in slow sales.
AADA Policy Chair, Terry Keating’s response to this is potent:
‘Edwards tells us that his country has, in 2014, just managed to achieve new car volumes equal to the early 1980s, this hardly seems an outcome to be proud of…’ he said.

By comparison, in 1982 Australia sold roughly 500,000 new cars. Today the number is approaching 1.2 million units. And despite this massive increase in the numbers sold (and subsequent increase in cars on our roads) Australia’s road toll has declined by more than half in absolute numbers. Of course better roads, roundabouts, and drink driving laws have all played a part, but so too has the enormous improvement in vehicle design and the inclusion of standard safety features.

‘It is without dispute that a typical 2014 new car will be much safer to drive than an equivalent five year old one’ Mr Keating said.

Regarding the tampering of odometers – a major concern for the Australian market, Edwards asserts that ‘it is illegal to import a vehicle with a tampered [odometer]’ and according to Edwards, is now a rare occurrence in New Zealand.

The AADA believes that this is arguable, with firsthand knowledge about the practices of some Japanese car exporters and their apparent cavalier attitude towards history and speedo records.
In the Australian market, where strict design and compliance laws exist, the temptation to tamper with this type of data could be even higher, explains Mr Keating:
‘Many imports will not meet Australia’s strict design and compliance laws. So in an open slather market, if we were to allow it, you can bet that self-interest will beat good ethics when a myriad of “back yarders” and shady unlicensed operators abound. The losers will be the public who have become accustomed to getting what they think they are getting.’

What seems clear is that while conditions surrounding large-scale imports into New Zealand have certainly improved, it has been a long road to recovery. Edwards identifies that while cars being sold into New Zealand from Japan were at almost scrap value years ago, today ‘competition and stiff regulation’ means vehicles are newer and better.

But better than the equivalent new cars being sold in showrooms? Not likely.

AADA remains firm on the point that Australia’s new car prices are already at 20 year lows and belong to a market that is the most competitive in the world, with more than 65 brands on sale all of which must adhere to strict design standards…

As Terry Keating puts it, ‘why on Earth would we want to change any of that?’

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