Import restrictions on new & used vehicles

By: Malcolm Street

How might proposed changes to import restrictions affect the Australian RV industry?

Import restrictions on new & used vehicles
The CIAA is concerned, quite rightly in some cases, that there’ll be a flood of imports, particularly the grey variety that are brought in under the guise of ‘personal imports’ by backyard operators

You may or may not be aware, but the federal government is currently looking to eliminate or ease import restrictions on new and used motor vehicles. This covers the entire gamut of the motor industry and includes caravans and motorhomes.

One item on the agenda is to bring some Australian Design Rules (ADRs) into line with the rest of the world. There are one or two, for example, that can mean German cars built for hurtling along the Autobahn at 200km/h require design modifications before being used in Australia.

Now, there are many interested parties keen for this not to happen, but the potential outcomes for consumers are cheaper vehicles and the ability to bring hitherto restricted vehicles into Australia.


One interested party is the Caravan Industry Association Australia (CIAA) and its concern, quite rightly in some cases, that there’ll be a flood of imports, particularly the grey variety (RVs without any sort of dealer, parts or service network in Australia) that are brought in under the guise of ‘personal imports’ by backyard operators.

A variation of this is where there is an importer in Australia appointed by an overseas manufacturer, with those same RVs arriving in Australia another way. The buyers then expect service and parts from the official importer. However, that is not going to happen because that same importer doesn’t have to deal with warranty matters or supply parts they do not stock for their own vans.

My two cents

I was among a group invited to take part in an online CIAA survey on what I thought about all this. As long as imports do not swamp the local industry (as is happening in New Zealand), and as long as they are fully compliant and are backed by a genuine warranty, I have no problem with them. The Europeans, in particular, know how to build a good caravan and motorhome and there is a danger that if they are kept out, the local industry will become insular and you, the buyer/user, will miss out.

On the regulatory side of things, I’ve heard once or twice recently the comment that overseas regulations don’t match the ADRs and relevant standards here. However, I find it hard to believe that the Germans (for instance), who build some of the world’s best cars, don’t have a fairly tough regulatory environment for gas and electrics, for example. Additionally, it’s worth pointing out that some of our Australian/New Zealand standards were originally based on British ones.

Generally speaking, I didn’t have any problems with the issues raised in the CIAA survey. There were some good questions and they were, for the most part, reasonably balanced. I did wonder, however, about the question as to whether or not all RVs should achieve compliance before they are imported. How that might be achieved is unclear, but it seems to assume that local automotive engineers will have a good understanding of overseas products or overseas automotive engineers will have a good understanding of Australian ADRs. I can’t see that happening in a practical way.


It’s not hard to see why local manufacturers might be concerned. However, I reckon a better approach is not to prevent imports from arriving in Australia and thereby preventing Australian consumers from getting their hands on some interesting products, but to take a different path.

A very good example of such a path is the deal that A’van did with German manufacturer Knaus in building a ‘joint product’. Across the Tasman, New Zealand manufacturer Traillite, seeing precisely which way the wind was blowing, decided to import a range of British motorhomes and sell them alongside its locally made product, effectively giving itself a foot in both camps.

In this global world in which we live, this sort of change is inevitable and I reckon the challenge is to respond effectively. After all, for many years the free-to-air TV channels in Australia tried to pretend that the digital/online way of watching TV and movies wasn’t happening and are now paying the price.

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The full feature appeared in Caravan World #532, December 2014. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!