Gray imported EVs ‘shouldn’t go mainstream’, critics say, as interest grows

IIndustry figures worry about a rise in Australians looking to import used electric vehicles from overseas, saying they could pose problems with battery disposal and future targets of emissions.

Interest in importing new or used electric vehicles has increased in recent months, according to several sources, due to rising fuel prices at the tanker – with further increases expected when the temporary reduction in the excise will end later this month.

But while many say a growing tide of electric vehicle ‘grey imports’ is a good thing as it brings more choices to our market that are currently unavailable – mainly due to lagging fuel efficiency standards – and at a lower price, some bands say they should “not be mainstream”.

According to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), gray imports (models which arrive in Australia outside of the normal volume import process carried out by car manufacturers) should be limited to classic or specialist cars – such as vehicles for people with disabilities not offered locally.

“In our view, gray imports should be for specialists and enthusiasts only, they should be extremely rare and limited in volume as they should not be part of the mainstream market,” said FCAI Managing Director Tony Weber.

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“When they’re in the mainstream, there are complications with owning them. Specialists and enthusiasts understand those complications and are happy to experience them. And quite often they [the vehicles] are not used as daily means of transport.

“What concerns me is that when they are mainstream, and especially when they are sold second-hand, there are consumers who buy them who do not understand that they are gray imports and that they are affected. The best example of this is the Commonwealth’s failure to remove gray imports fitted with Takata airbags from the road.

Earlier this year, wheels Thousands of foreign vehicles revealed to be exclusive to Australia under new import laws could pose a safety risk due to flaws in the way they are recalled.

The responsibility for recalling (and therefore fixing) gray import cars when things go wrong does not lie with the original manufacturer – as it does with new vehicles – which means buyers could be exposed to spiraling financial costs and legal problems.

wheels understands that the first time the extent of the problem was truly discovered was during the mandatory global recall of Takata airbags, which began in 2013.

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While OEMs were legally required to contact the owners of any cars they sold in Australia that had been fitted with the faulty airbags, they were not responsible for gray imports.

In this case, the automakers approached the government and requested lists of their vehicles and corrected them as a show of goodwill – as well as to deal with any resulting reputational damage.

The FCAI’s view is somewhat supported by the dealer network, which also urges caution when it comes to importing electric vehicles from overseas.

“With the removal of limits on the number of vehicles allowed to enter under the Government’s Specialist and Enthusiast Vehicle Scheme, we are seeing an increasing number of used cars being imported into Australia and added to the fleet,” he said. said James Voortman, CEO of the Australian Automobile Dealers Association (AADA).

“As the government considers a vehicle emissions standard, it will have to decide how gray imports will be handled, as global standards generally only apply to new cars.

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“To reduce Australia’s emissions, it is important that the government consider all vehicles – new and used – imported and added to the country’s vehicle fleet.

“Used vehicles are now being imported under the new scheme, so it is important that we have some transparency to understand what type of cars are being added and how they will affect government plans to reduce vehicle emissions.

“I think there are questions we should ask ourselves. How old are these cars? Is Australia stuck with the responsibility of disposing of end-of-life batteries? Will advances in battery technology make old batteries yesterday? Are they subject to recalls? »

Despite the reluctance of some, the idea of ​​bringing more electric vehicles to our shores by means other than waiting for car manufacturers to offer them directly to us is widely supported.

A report by think tank Climateworks last month found that amid strong demand but low supply for electric vehicles and high upfront prices, increased imports of used electric vehicles may help bring more low-cost options to Australia.

Currently, all used vehicles, including electric vehicles, are subject to import restrictions. This includes a requirement that any vehicle model being considered has not been available for sale in Australia recently, as well as a series of technical compliance checks.

Making this access easier for electric vehicles has been highlighted in the report and has been repeatedly recommended to the government on several occasions, such as by the Productivity Commission and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in 2014, and the Harper Review in 2015.

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One of Australia’s major importers, Iron Chef Imports, has been bringing electric vehicles – like the Nissan Leaf – here for years, and says it’s actually not that different from what it is for petrol cars. or diesel.

“The process is generally no different than importing any other vehicle, other than checking the battery for health before purchase. Our customers approach us with their budget, and we source and import the best possible vehicle for their money,” said director Kristian Appelt.

“It’s mainly to make sure the battery is in good condition. For Nissan Leafs, for example, our auction agents have a program they use to check a battery’s state of health (SoH expressed as a percentage) and a range of other interesting data. For our customers, we avoid purchasing vehicles whose SoH has fallen below 85%, as this may be an indicator that some individual cells are about to die. Fortunately, there are also a number of new companies in Australia that now offer battery refurbishment services (as opposed to whole battery replacement) that are much cheaper than before.

According to Appelt, in recent months the company has seen more potential customers inquire about importing an electric vehicle than ever before and believe it could be a good thing for Australians.

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“In terms of pure electric vehicles, we’re importing about 30 to 40 a year. But interest has certainly increased since the spike in gas prices. The Nissan Leaf is the most common, but we’re also seeing a lot more interest in hybrids, especially production hybrids like the Nissan Note e-Power – which offer the EV driving experience, but without the range anxiety. buyers who are hesitant to make the leap directly to an electric vehicle.

“In terms of new or almost new vehicles, the biggest advantage is being able to buy models that manufacturers, for whatever reason, have chosen not to supply to Australia. For slightly older vehicles, it’s It’s about giving EV enthusiasts access to ecological vehicles (therefore hybrids and EVs) at more affordable prices, and often with more features than the options available new.

“The main drawback is the reluctance of local dealers to provide support for imported vehicles, whether for parts and maintenance, or for vehicle recalls. This despite having the processes in place to to do so and to already provide such support in other countries such as New Zealand With the growing demand for used imported electric vehicles, we are now seeing aftermarket companies spring up to support owners, in areas such as such as replacing battery cells, sourcing factory parts online or converting Japanese infotainment screens to Australian specifications.

Indeed, in many ways what happens above the gap is considered to be much more progressive than what we have here. Although there are a handful of importers bringing electric vehicles to our shores, in New Zealand it’s already a thriving industry – buoyed by the recent introduction of the country’s clean car policy, with rebates offered on used and new electric vehicles. In Australia currently, only Tasmania does the same.

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Sally Roberts, director of upscale company European Car Imports in New Zealand, said wheels the changes there could have the potential to shake up the import market as manufacturers are able to start making more models available overseas.

The company introduced a number of vehicles to the New Zealand market for the first time and typically imports cars such as the Volkswagen ID.3 and ID.4, Åudi Q4 E-Tron, Peugeot e-208 and Jaguar E- Pace.

“The advantage of importing is that it means there are more options available or you can get cars 1-3 years before they come here otherwise or it’s a model that comes here but not in a certain spec – like one with a bigger battery etc,” she said.

“People talk a lot about the Clean Car Policy, but it hasn’t really impacted our market segment, maybe it could on the more standard segment. This could mean in the long term that there is an impact on importers, because if more manufacturers bring more makes and models here, there would be no need to import unless there was a price difference. substantial. Even then, there will always be cars that don’t come here as Australia and New Zealand are quite small markets. It will be interesting to see how things go. »