The proposal to shift the Ports of Auckland's vehicle import operations to Whangarei is "purely a cynical political decision", says used-car business association VIA.
Chief executive David Vinsen said the industry had spent 30 years working with the port and shipping companies developing an efficient system, "squeezing out all the inefficiencies and costs" from the import process.
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"We think it works very well and of course Auckland is where it is because of the port, not the other way round. Auckland was established because it has a good port facility ... and the vast majority of the market's vehicles (go to) the greater Auckland area and down to the Waikato."
Vinsen said moving the imports system anywhere else would add to costs, create delays in distribution, and put hundreds more trucks on the road.
More than 300,000 new and used vehicles land in New Zealand each year - about half of which are used and mainly from Japan and Singapore. Vinsen said about 75 per cent are imported through the Ports of Auckland. Distribution of the vehicles currently involves 60,000 to 80,000 truck movements a year, he said.
A Government-commissioned working group's final report on the best way forward for the upper North Island freight and logistics system, including ports, is now with Cabinet ministers. The report is likely to say the Ports of Auckland is no longer viable, economically or environmentally, and its commercial operations should be shifted to the deep-water port Northport near Whangarei.
The NZ First-sponsored study was a requirement of the party's Coalition agreement with Labour and is being championed by Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones, who comes from Northland.
The chairman of the working group, businessman Wayne Brown, is a former Northland local body politician. An Ernst & Young financial analysis with the group's interim report put the cost of shifting port operations north at $10 billion. The land on which the Auckland ports operate is valued at around $6b.
Vinsen said VIA's members were pragmatic and entrepreneurial.
"They would deal with whatever is thrust at them. They may grumble but these sorts of decisions are just purely political decisions with almost no commercial understanding of the realities.
"We think the system we have at the moment is very efficient. A lot of money has been invested in it by the ports, by the shipping companies and by logistics companies to make it extremely efficient and cost effective.
"To disrupt it for a purely cynical political deal, well, you can take your own conclusions from that. This is about jobs for Northland and an electorate for Shane.
"Whatever the decisions are, they will be a long time coming, they will have a long gestation period, they will be extremely expensive and even though it will be a political decision, it won't be without its road blocks.
"The Government doesn't own the Ports of Auckland so they will have to have a deal there."
"It would be a hugely expensive exercise for very little gain. (It's about) political expediency up north and window-dressing in Auckland against public perception."
However Vinsen said VIA was "open-minded" about the issue.
"Some of the bigger players in the industry are thinking about Northport - not necessarily as a preference, but thinking about what it would mean to make it work. We've had members who are big importers running trials through Tauranga (the Port of Tauranga).
"We are open-minded though our preference would be for it to stay where it is and make it work and for people to understand the importance of the port to Auckland."
He acknowledged car-hauling trucks contributed to Auckland's traffic congestion and the public perception that the port was "a huge car parking lot".
"It's not at all, it's just a cargo handling yard. They sit on the wharf for less than two and a half days ...
"Phil Goff (Auckland mayor) asked me last year 'why do they sit on the port for so long?' I said they don't. Then he said 'why do they sit there at all? I said cars are disgorged from a vessel at a rate of 3000, 4000, 5000 at a time, and then removed in increments - six cars on a truck - that takes time."
Vinsen said it was a "minority view" that the waterfront land should be given over to recreation and mixed residential-business use.
"Apartments and coffee bars. That hasn't worked down the other end of the wharf."
Meanwhile, David Crawford, chief executive of the new car import industry's advocate, the MIA, has been reported as saying importers would go to the Port of Tauranga, not Northport, if Ports of Auckland were closed to them.
Shifting operations north would add costs, time and access problems, Crawford has said.
Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns told the Herald there was a growing realisation the Ports of Auckland would be moving at some time but he doubted cargo shifts would happen in one event.
"There would be a gradual shift of cargoes and the Port of Tauranga and Northport will be able to cater for that."
Asked if Tauranga could handle Auckland's cars, Cairns said the listed company had six hectares of spare land immediately available.
"And we have the berth capacity to handle car carriers immediately so no capital works would be required to do that."
Cairns believed some cars would go to Tauranga and some to Northport and noted the working group's report had said even if the Government legislates for Auckland ports' closure, it would be customers who would choose the most cost efficient solutions.
Cairns said the passing of the Zero Carbon Bill into law would mean customers would be paying much closer attention to their supply chain emissions and the cost of carbon offsets. This would affect decisions around truck activity south from Northport until Northland's rail system was upgraded.
If the cars came to Tauranga, cars would be distributed out by an established rail system and could be handled at the emerging new inland port at Ruakura, near Hamilton with which his port company has a partnership.
Cairns agreed the bulk of cars landed at Tauranga would head back to Auckland, but said logically, agriculture equipment and heavy machinery currently imported through Auckland should be coming through Tauranga.