By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
Auto industry players yesterday expressed mixed views on the government’s move to protect Bahamian consumers and prevent the country from becoming a wrecked vehicle “dumping ground”.
The government’s signing of a contract with Yokohama-based EAA, which will conduct safety/roadworthiness inspections on used Japanese vehicles before they are exported to The Bahamas, was met with grudging acceptance by those in the second-hand auto industry so long as it did not result in price hikes that exclude low income Bahamians from vehicle ownership.
Others argued that the pre-inspection initiative, which starts with an initial pilot programme of one year, would not address the problem of wrecked vehicle imports from the US as it only applies to Japan.
Dwayne Scavella, the Bahamas Auto Repair Association’s (BARA) president, backed the move as long as it did not squeeze Bahamians out of the market. “What they are doing is a good thing as long as they are not using it as a tool to control the small man or control the market for certain dealerships,” he charged.
“In this country, every time something changes it is only to satisfy certain cliques. In all honesty, vehicles out of Japan are really no good. The structure of these cars doesn’t meet the real requirements. We see the cars over and over, and it’s what’s affordable and that’s what motorists are after.
“People don’t seem concerned about how safe it is or how quickly they can find a replacement part. People are only going after what they can afford. There’s been a negative impact on the repair sector. Vehicles that auto body shops could have repaired, they are writing them off. People get these cars a dime a dozen. It has also caused more vehicle thefts because parts for these vehicles are very hard to come by.”
Used car importers added that they were simply seeking to meet growing consumer demands. “Things are rough out there, and many people can’t afford to spend $30,000 or $40,000 on a new vehicle and have to pay the bank,” said one importer on condition of anonymity.
“That’s not reality for most Bahamians. They just want to get from point A to point B, and if all they can afford is a $3,000 vehicle then that’s what they’re going to get. I don’t see nothing wrong with them inspecting the vehicles in Japan. Whatever helps the consumer is good for me.”
Trevor Smith, of Real Deal Auto, also told Tribune Business: “If they’re inspecting the Japanese vehicles, fine, but what about these cars out of the US with front-end damage and what’s not? People are going to get what they can afford, whether from Japan or elsewhere.”
Dion Foulkes, minister of labour, yesterday said the pre-inspection process will not impose any additional taxes or charges on Bahamian taxpayers, although some minor cost increases will be imposed on local auto importers, dealers and buyers.
He explained that the $150 inspection cost will be paid by the Japanese exporters, with the Bahamas Bureau of Standards receiving $20 per inspection to cover the administrative services it has to provide in The Bahamas. Following yesterday’s contract signing there will be a 90-day implementation process and public education.
Mr Foulkes said the pre-inspection process will protect the health and safety of Bahamian consumers by ensuring only roadworthy-certified vehicles enter this nation. It is also designed to prevent this nation from becoming a “dumping ground” for old, unsafe autos that currently litter many communities and harm the environment.
The Minister added that Arawak Port Development Company (APD), the Nassau Container Port operator, reported that used vehicle imports fell slightly to 17,191 in 2018 from 18,469 the year before.
Fred Albury, head of the Bahamas Motor Dealers Association (BMDA), said local auto dealers intend to push for vehicles who fail the pre-export inspection to be repaired in Japan before they arrive in The Bahamas.
“One of the things we are going push in the inspection process is that a vehicle that may have an outstanding issue is addressed in Japan before it comes here,” he said. “In recent years the Takata airbag issue has been very troublesome for the manufacturers.
“There’s a big push to get them compliant. We’re having to send technicians with the necessary components to go to the islands to repair these vehicles. If that can be done before they hit the port here it would be much safer for consumers.”
The BMDA chief added: “I think the big issue is that a lot of these used cars are being exported by companies in Japan that just don’t care. The odometer is being turned back and there are vehicles with under carriages rusted. Vehicles may have been in an accident and the user is not aware.
“This inspection process will help to ensure that consumers are getting value for money on vehicles being imported. Japan has a policy where vehicles seven to ten years old are designed to go off-road due to the cost of annual inspections. The exporters look for markets like ours that have open borders. “
Dr Renae Ferguson-Bufford, director of the Bahamas Bureau of Standards (BBSQ), when asked whether radiation-contaminated vehicles have been found in this jurisdiction as a result of Japan’s earthquake-related accident involving the Fukushima plant, said: “ We don’t have the testing facilities in place for that and we trust and pray there isn’t.
“Because we have been a dumping ground for so long and have not had standards in place to ensure conformity, we really can’t answer that.”
Lee Sayer, vice president and director of EAA, explained: “Every vehicle that passes inspection will receive a certificate and have windows stickers placed on them. One of those stickers will be certification that it has passed radiation inspections.”