As the CEO of AutoTrader, I constantly strive to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to the automotive industry. Recently, I had an eye-opening conversation with Gary Scott, the esteemed CEO of KIA South Africa, about a pressing issue that is plaguing our beloved country’s auto sector: illegal car imports. What I learned during our discussion left me deeply concerned and compelled to shed light on this growing problem.

The Policy Dilemma: Legal vs. Illegal Imports

Gary revealed that importing secondhand cars is a policy decision that varies from country to country. While in many nations, this practice is legal and aims to address affordability concerns, in South Africa, it is deemed illegal. However, lax enforcement and loopholes have allowed a thriving black market for these imports to flourish.

The Threat to Local Manufacturing

The impact of illegal car imports on the local automotive industry is severe. As Gary pointed out, local demand is crucial for the industry to prosper. Building factories in a country where cars cannot be sold domestically would be a counterproductive move. The presence of rampant used car imports undermines the industry’s strategic goals and weakens its overall strength.

Unveiling the Extent of the Problem

The scale of this issue is staggering. A shocking revelation from Gary Scott highlighted that if the industry sells 30,000 passenger cars per month, there are approximately 30,000 illegal imports entering the market annually. Essentially, this means the industry faces a “13th check,” an additional month’s worth of sales, but it’s not a cause for celebration. Rather, it represents a disturbing trend that needs urgent attention.

The Consumer’s Role and Unseen Dangers

Consumers unwittingly contribute to the problem by purchasing these illegal imports, driven by the allure of lower prices. However, they fail to realise the potential risks they expose themselves to. These vehicles haven’t paid the required taxes, are often out of spec, and may not meet European emission standards. Safety concerns, availability of spare parts, and warranty issues further compound the risks associated with these cars.

The Urgent Need for Action

Addressing the issue of illegal car imports requires a multi-faceted approach. Strict enforcement measures, including enhanced customs and border control systems, must be implemented. Digitisation, big data, and AI can play a vital role in ensuring accountability and closing loopholes. Collaboration among government departments, law enforcement agencies, and industry stakeholders is imperative.

Elevating the Issue to Top Priority

Gary emphasises the importance of elevating the issue to the highest levels of governance. As he rightly suggests, illegal car imports should be treated as a priority crime, equivalent to money laundering. Urgent action is needed to curb this organised economic crime, safeguard the local automotive industry, and protect consumers from potential dangers.

Illegal car imports pose a significant threat to South Africa’s automotive industry. We must act swiftly and decisively to address this issue at all levels. Only by working together can we ensure a thriving and robust auto sector that benefits both the industry and consumers alike. Let’s take a stand against illegal car imports and secure a brighter future for the South African automotive landscape.