Tue | Dec 10, 2019

Auto dealers blame pre-inspection agent for import delays

Published:Wednesday | July 17, 2019 | 12:18 AMNeville Graham/Business Reporter

It used to be that importing a used motor vehicle from Japan would take two to five weeks, but importers are now faced with delays of up to five months.

According to Andrew Jackson, vice-president of the Jamaica Used Car Dealers Association, JUCDA, the two-year-old vehicle pre-inspection regime is the source of the problem.

“Because of the inspections, there are delays in shipping the cars,” said Jackson, who operates his own pre-owned car dealership, Jetcon Corporation.

“Typically, once you order, it takes about two-three months for the car to be shipped out. They have to schedule the inspection, and seeing that there is a possibility that it may fail inspection, then it may have to be scheduled again after making adjustments or corrections; and then after that they have to arrange shipping,” Jackson explained.

The delays were first reported to the Financial Gleaner by a small vehicle importer, who said that after purchasing a car from SBT, a large pre-owned motor vehicle exporter, he was informed that the car would be inspected by Auto Terminal Japan, ATJ – the Japanese agency contracted by Jamaica’s import licensing agency, the Trade Board, to conduct vehicle inspections on pre-owned autos prior to their shipment to.

The importer said that over a six-week period, he has been given two inspections dates from ATJ, through SBT, and both dates were cancelled without explanation.

“I tried calling ATJ directly; no answer. SBT says they haven’t received any update from ATJ. I tried getting information from the Trade Board with no success, as the person who answered the phone had no information on the Trade Board-and-ATJ arrangement,” the used car importer said.

The pre-inspection regime for used motor vehicles came into force in July 2017. It was meant to address mounting consumer complaints about defects and misinformation about their purchases.

The inspection involves a detailed inspection covering all mechanical and electrical functions, along with verification of identification codes, mileage and year of manufacture.

Industry players inveighed against the new policy at first, citing increased expenses. But by last December, nearly 16 months after the rollout of the system, JUCDA President Lynvalle Hamilton reported that despite initial misgivings, the policy was working to the benefit of the sector.

Now, half a year later, both Jackson and Hamilton say delays are now a feature of the system; that the problem was due in part to overzealous inspections, and appeared to be worsening, despite commitments by the Trade Board to address it.

“We’ve been making representation to the Trade Board, because vehicles used to be failed for simple things like a dent or scratch, or in one case, a missing hub cap. After discussions with the Trade Board, they seemed to have relaxed a little and they are now checking for the main things,” Jackson said.

“We’ve had complaints from the suppliers that it has gotten worse. ATJ seems to be getting more work on their hands and the sanitisation programme that they’ve just taken on has made matters even worse,” added Hamilton, who heads the Auto Channel dealership.

“Initially, we were told that they’d be inspecting for the year, major damage on the car or a major fault such as engine and suspension, but it started to be some ridiculous things,” he said.

Over the past decade, data from industry sources indicate that the total value of new and pre-owned auto imports has risen annually, except for one year, 2018, when the value dropped to US$322 million from US$417 million in 2017.

Data on import licences was requested, but has not been forthcoming from the Trade Board.

Jackson says from his standpoint, the exporter, SBT, is unlikely to be the source of the problem, based on his own company Jetcon’s experiences doing business with them over time.

“SBT is probably the largest used car dealer in the world and everybody uses them – both companies and individuals. We at Jetcon have been using them for over 17 years and they have been pretty good, with no complaints,” Jackson said.

Promised responses from the Trade Board on the complaints about the pre-inspection system were unforthcoming.

JUCDA President Hamilton says that while previous commitments by the Trade Board have had limited impact, he was still interested in what agency head Douglas Webster had to say about resolving the problem.

“They did indicate that they’d made some adjustments, and for a few months we saw some improvements, but it appears to be getting back to the same old story. It seems as if the communication between the Trade Board and Auto Terminal Japan is not what it ought to be,” Hamilton said.

neville.graham@gleanerjm.com