Car import reforms are good for consumers and competition

21 April 2016

Freeing up laws around importing new cars will provide consumers with greater choice and create new business opportunities in a changing industry, ACCC Commissioner Roger Featherston said today at the Australian Auto Aftermarket Conference in Melbourne.

The Government recently announced it will ease restrictions on consumers importing new vehicles from 2018. The reforms allow a consumer to import a vehicle from the UK or Japan. The vehicle must have less than 500km on its odometer, and the consumer may not import more than one vehicle every two years.

“Consumers should be entitled to weigh up all the relevant considerations and decide whether personally importing a car is right for them, or whether sticking to the established system of dealerships suits them better,” Mr Featherston said.

Mr Featherston said claims that consumers may end up with a vehicle that does not meet their needs or operate as required in Australian driving conditions appear far-fetched.

“Consumers will only be able to import cars from the UK and Japan. These are markets that sell right hand drive cars and have similar safety standards to Australia. Also, the climatic conditions in Europe and Japan can be as extreme, if not more extreme, than conditions in Australia.”

Mr Featherston said the issue does not appear to be one of safety or adaptability to Australian conditions, but one of choice.

“With choice comes competition and opportunities for consumers and businesses alike.”

“New Zealand’s economy has benefitted from allowing the personal importation of vehicles: consumers have access to cheaper cars, new businesses have emerged to assist consumers with the importation process, and existing businesses have grown. We would expect to see similar benefits here in Australia.”

Mr Featherston said it will be important for consumers to have information about the operation of the scheme and the possible risks.

“Until details of the scheme are settled, it is difficult to be precise about how consumer guarantees will apply to protect consumers from defects.”

“For instance, if the scheme permits Australian businesses to import vehicles for individual consumers, protections may be more readily available than if individual consumers are required to purchase their vehicle directly from an overseas entity that may have no connection with Australia,” Mr Featherston said.

“Consumers may also look at other ways to insure their vehicle with some options already on the market. For example, roadside assistance on one level, and warranty products that may currently exist or emerge as demand grows.”

“In any event, consumers are making assessments for themselves when they import other products and they should be allowed to do the same for cars.”

As part of the speech to industry, Mr Featherston also discussed access to vehicle repair data and provided an update on recent enforcement actions by the ACCC in the automotive sector.

With a review underway, Mr Featherston also called on the auto aftermarket industry to have a say on whether the Australian Consumer Law should include a ‘lemon law’.

Read Mr Featherston’s speech to Australian Auto Aftermarket Conference hosted by the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association (AAAA).

Release number: 
MR 55/16
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