By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
Bahamian auto repairers yesterday blasted new car dealers for successfully lobbying the Government to ban ‘wrecked’ vehicle imports, alleging that this would jeopardise 4,500 jobs and “push the small man out of business”.
Industry representatives blasted the Government’s decision as “inconsiderate”, saying the move - which takes effect from September 1 this year - would “cripple” the livelihoods of auto mechanics, body repairmen, scrap metal salvagers, two truck operators, parts suppliers and many young Bahamians wanting to pursue their trade in the industry.
Dwayne Scavella, the Bahamas Auto Repair Association’s president, told Tribune Business that the new policy would force consumers into buying higher-priced vehicles from dealers who had dominated the industry for years.
“The motor dealers, the banks along with the insurance companies, collaborated in asking the Government to not issue licensing certificates for what they call wrecks,” said Mr Scavella. “First of all, we have to define what a wreck is. In the United States, a wreck is a wreck.
“We don’t have a vehicle title system here in the Bahamas. If they want to look at and go by the US title system, then dealers themselves need to import vehicles based on the US standards. They themselves are importing vehicles out of other countries which are substandard compared to the US standards, but what they want to do is use that against us to say that the vehicles are not up to standard, which is not true.”
Mr Scavella added: “Motor dealers are not importing vehicles from the US because they want to corner the consumer. Everything you need, you will have to come through them. There is enough in the industry for everyone. The motor dealers have had the lion’s share of this industry for many years and no one has interfered with them.”
Mr Scavella said auto repair professionals have been repairing vehicles in the Bahamas for years, arguing that they have saved motorists and insurers millions of dollars.
“There are some who are just going to buy a brand new car, but there are many people who just can’t afford it and are going to look abroad to save a few dollars by improving a vehicle that has a little damage,” he told Tribune Business.
“There is talk about stolen vehicles and, while that does happen and it is unfortunate, the real agenda here is to push the small man out of business.
These dealers need to make adjustments in their prices so they can get more customers.”
The Government and new auto dealers believe the wrecked vehicle import ban will help reduce the ever-increasing number of auto thefts in the Bahamas. They argue that the crime is being facilitated by the ability of thieves to switch vehicle identification numbers (VINs) with imported wrecks.
Those in favour of such an import ban argue that it will have environmental and health and safety benefits, protecting Bahamian consumers from purchasing ‘restored’ wrecks that still have significant defects.
Mr Scavella, though, said: “For may repair shops this is their livelihood. We did a survey and some repair shops said that 100 per cent of their work comes from people going online and importing a damaged vehicle.
“That in itself provides a perfect opportunity for the Government to create some jobs. We can put together a titling committee with inspectors. We can have an inspection team that surveys vehicles at the dock to say whether we can accept a vehicle to be repaired and placed on our streets, or if it has to go to the scrap yard.”
Sean Riley, proprietor of Riley Boys Auto, told Tribune Business that the Government should consider implementing a policy that would require Bahamians who wish to purchase vehicles online to go through local auto repair professionals.
“A lot of Bahamians now go online to choose the vehicle they want. Most of the times the vehicle may look good, but when it reaches here they find out that it has a lot of hidden damages,” Mr Riley said.
“The Government could say that if persons want to order a vehicle, they have to go through a dealer. I could see the Government regulating that.”
Mr Scavella added that Government spent millions of dollars purchasing new fleets of vehicles through the local auto industry.
“Just look at the Police Force garage and the amount of cars sitting there waiting to be broken up,” he added.
“Every five years the Government is replacing vehicles for various ministries. They replace vehicles so much and the auto dealers get the contract to do it.”