Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Jalopy in Japan Is a Kiwi's Cadillac Auto Buyers Here Gobble Up Used Cars from Japan's Consumer Culture - a Letter from Wellington

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Jalopy in Japan Is a Kiwi's Cadillac Auto Buyers Here Gobble Up Used Cars from Japan's Consumer Culture - a Letter from Wellington

Article excerpt

NEW Zealanders used to keep their cars for so long the country had a reputation as a kind of living auto museum. Now, the Kiwis are turning their antique domestics in - for used cars from Japan.

New Zealanders are flocking to used-car lots that specialize in selling cars that formerly idled in Tokyo traffic jams. Japanese often sell their cars early because registration fees rise as cars get older.

Over the past two years, New Zealand has imported 141,694 Japanese used cars; the remaining 123,482 cars sold have either have been imported new or assembled locally. Used cars are selling faster because they are cheaper.

"It's the first time many New Zealanders have been able to afford a decent car," says Suzanne Smith, executive assistant to the minister of finance. In fact, the Japanese used cars have driven down the price of other used cars in New Zealand.

"They've made quite a significant change" reports George Fairbairn, secretary general of the New Zealand Automobile Association. They've made such a change that the New Zealand automobile assemblers lobbied for a tariff, which the government installed last year.

But the $1,200 (New Zealand; US$650) duty has not stopped the docks from filling up with used cars, so a parliamentary committee is now investigating the imports. They will no doubt look across the Tasman Sea for encouragement, where Australian car manufacturers are now lobbying Parliament to have a $12,000 (Australian; US$9,180) tariff imposed on used-car imports.

The importers of new Japanese cars are also unhappy and sometimes refuse to supply parts to repair the used cars.

"They don't feel the cars give the right image since they were not intended for the New Zealand market," explains Mr. Fairbairn. As a result of this embargo, importers are air-freighting in crates of parts, including used engines, salvaged off young, junked Japanese cars. …

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