By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Auto dealers yesterday denied seeking a ‘blanket ban’ on wrecked vehicle imports, while urging the Bahamas to avoid becoming an industry “dumping ground”.
Rick Lowe, Nassau Motor Company’s (NMC) director/operations manager, told Tribune Business that dealers had merely recommended Customs stop writing-up slips that enabled wrecked vehicles - once repaired - to be licensed and inspected at the Road Traffic Department.
He was responding after Bahamian auto repairers accused their dealer counterparts of lobbying the Government for an all-encompassing ban on wrecked vehicle imports as a means “to put the small man out of business.”
But Mr Lowe revealed yesterday: “Our suggestion was not to ban all wrecked vehicle imports. Our suggestion was not to give them the Road Traffic licensing slip. That’s been our position all along. It’s a tough situation for us all.”
He explained that, under current auto import procedures, Customs issues a slip confirming that the vehicle has been properly cleared at the border with all due taxes paid.
This is then taken by the importer to the Road Traffic Department to facilitate the vehicle’s licensing and inspection.
However, the slip has facilitated Bahamian auto thieves, who are able to switch Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) from imported wrecks on to cars stolen in the Bahamas.
Having changed the latter’s identity, the stolen car can thus masquerade as the imported wreck when taken to Road Traffic for licensing, with the Customs slip ensuring it passes inspection.
“Our suggestion all along was not to issue that [Customs] slip for wrecked vehicles because that was facilitating the transfer of the VIN from the wreck to the stolen car,” Mr Lowe told Tribune Business.
“We said that if a vehicle’s deemed unroadworthy and can’t get licensed in the US, what makes it roadworthy in the Bahamas? That would still facilitate people bringing in spare parts legitimately.”
Mr Lowe explained that this proposal was made during the last round of discussions, involving auto dealers, banks, insurance companies and the relevant government agencies, on developing a Bahamian vehicle titling system.
Agreeing with auto repair industry complaints that the Government had failed to consult with the sector prior to announcing the planned September 1 ‘wreck’ ban, Mr Lowe said: “I don’t blame them for defending legitimate territory.
“The Government certainly doesn’t every situation. I understand their [auto repairers] concerns. It’s a legitimate concerns. This is why, when legislation creates unintended consequences, not everyone understands.”
Fred Albury, the Bahamas Motor Dealers Association (BMDA), yesterday vehemently denied that there was any intention to put small Bahamian entrepreneurs out of business over the wrecked vehicle issue.
Echoing Mr Lowe, he said BMDA members had “no issue” with wrecked vehicles that were imported into the Bahamas purely for parts and salvage work.
Mr Albury, though, warned that the Bahamas must not become a “dumping ground” for wrecked vehicles. And he suggested that a ban on those imported for repairs that would see them returned to road use would benefit Bahamian consumers, rather than auto dealers.
“These wrecks are contributing to so much corruption, and contributing to vehicle theft,” Mr Albury told Tribune Business.
“The insurance companies have more to say about this than the dealers, as they are the ones having to pay out for stolen vehicles. It’s not just the car dealers.”
The Auto Mall chief said wrecked vehicles raised health and safety, and consumer protection, issue for the Bahamas if they were repaired and presented to potential buyers as new, only to “fall into pieces” on the roads.
“If these vehicles are not fit for use in the US, why should we become the dumping ground for them?” Mr Albury asked.
While there was no issue with vehicles suffering from minor damage or ‘fender benders’ returning to the road, Mr Albury suggested that imported ‘wrecks’ be inspected and certified by a mechanical engineer to determine if they were roadworthy.
“This is not for car dealers; it’s more for consumer protection,” Mr Albury said of the Government’s proposed wrecked vehicle ban. “It’s multi-faceted but, at the end of the day, the consumer will pay a little bit more for a better quality vehicle, and get better value for money/
“There are a handful of guys specialising in this and profiting like crazy, but the insurance companies are getting hit and the banks financing these vehicles ultimately find out they’re a piece of junk and there’s no equity left in them when they have to repossess.
“It’s not just the car dealers. It’s the insurance companies, banks and consumers taking hits all around. This should clear it up.”
Mr Albury said auto dealers had “taken our blows, especially since 2010” with numerous tax increases. He added that the 2015-2016 Budget had been “the first favourable year” for the sector, with Excise Tax rates being condensed and lowered to a uniform 65 per cent.
“At lower rates of duty, there’s no reason why consumers cannot buy a roadworthy vehicle with a little left in it and be safe on the roads,” he added.