Mixed messages roll on

By Jacqui Madelin

The Japanese tsunami has caused shortages of new vehicles but the effect on the imported used-car market is less clear cut.

Some in the industry are citing shortages and price rises. Others suggest those effects are being used as an excuse to lobby for a delay in the new emissions legislation coming into force in January.

"We're starting to see supply constraints as a result of a number of factors mostly stemming from reduced new car availability in Japan," Independent Motor Vehicle Dealers Association chief executive David Vinsen says.

"There seems to be a new air of austerity in Japan. As well as a shortage of supply of new, there's a shortage of demand from consumers reluctant to be seen to be flashing around in new vehicles.

"It's the perfect storm of reduced supply and increased demand domestically, so our buyers are finding it difficult to buy stock," Vinsen says.

"We're seeing fewer imports and, those that do arrive, people will have to pay more for."

However, numbers across the wharf suggest there is no shortage.

While imports in the first quarter of the year were down on last year, the 10,261 used clearances in April and 7160 in May were considerably above last year's figures.

The MIA's Perry Kerr says Vinsen is scaremongering. "I'm going to call him Chicken Little from now on.

"He's trying to pressure the Government to delay the introduction of Japan 05 emissions standards."

That standard will restrict imports to those which comply with Japan 05 emissions regulations. Only 15 per cent of today's imports comply and the rule will have a huge upward impact on prices, Vinsen says.

Toyota used vehicles general manager Spencer Morris suggests numbers of imports could halve. "If you look at what's been brought in over the past few years, 50 per cent have been over the seven years [old]."

But Kerr says fears the regulations will gut the used-car market are unfounded. "If you analyse the numbers as we do, you'll find the number of changes of ownership has remained relatively constant over the years, at once every three years on average. That has remained unaffected by previous legislative changes, be they frontal impact, emissions standards and so on."

Kerr admits prices may rise as importers move to newer vehicles.

However, used import prices are likely to track new car recovery, Morris says. "If new car prices become more competitive, then used car prices will follow suit."

Jacqui Madelin

- Herald on Sunday

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