Traders looking to Asia for imports of used vehicles
A government policy that has allowed second-hand vehicles to be imported for commercial use is under review, a government spokesman has disclosed.
In effect for some years, the policy has quietly slashed the cost of vehicles for small businesses and public service vehicles such as minibuses and largely the taxi industry.
While not available for private cars yet, nothing appears to be off the table.
When asked about opening up the private car market, a Ministry of Transport spokesman told The Royal Gazette that is also under review.
The one exception for private cars, at the moment, is for those individuals moving to Bermuda while bringing a permitted vehicle not more than six months old.
The issue of age for all vehicles will also become a point of discussion. Right now, according to the transport spokesman, there is no required age limit for most second-hand commercial vehicles, although that too is under review.
Bermudians have gone direct to specialised Asian vehicle dealers for their restored and refurbished large taxis, small trucks and minibuses.
How much of a bargain has this been for these small businesses?
One taxi owner said that he had a six-seater which had been restored, shipped and landed on island for little more than $7,000. He said if he did not know otherwise, at first glance he would have thought it was brand new.
The Transport Ministry spokesman said: “Legislative restrictions for importation pertain to private motor cars and limousines. This is under review.”
The spokesman was unable to say how many second-hand commercial vehicles are on the road at present, but the number is growing.
Tracy Roy, of Roy’s Fine Food, said that she was advised of local brokers or intermediaries in Bermuda who help buyers through the process, from researching availability to dealing with government compliance.
But the restaurateur said that her company decided to do its own online research in an effort to keep costs down for the family business. It located an Asian distributor who sent pictures of the target vehicle.
She said: “Yes, we brought our own in. It would have cost extra to use the local service, so we went direct.
“When we bought it, we knew it was already several years old, but we didn’t need to get much done to it, because it was already in good shape. When the van came (to Bermuda) it was like it was brand new – even the interior. We just put on the company name.
“It was five-something, over $7,000 with shipping and duty. Closer to $8.000 all told.
“I know two others who have brought in van type vehicles for six-seven thousand dollars, but they were for taxis.”
One cab driver told us: “Taxi owners have been ripped off for years, sometimes buying a car for forty-five or fifty thousand and it doesn’t last much more than five years. And many times the needed parts are not on island. Who keeps an inventory of parts any more? So you have a car parked up and you can’t work and it’s no telling how long it is going to be before the needed parts arrive. So, you have no income after having spent a lot in the initial purchase.”
Buyers are searching from a number of websites and writing to express an interest in a vehicle before they are sent all of the relevant details of the condition of the vehicle, together with pictures. They are requesting specific work or replacement parts before shipping, less expensively sourced and installed in Asia.
An owner of a six-seater taxi said: “You may want new tyres or a radio put in it. You may ask for a new battery or an extra set of keys. But it is a lot less expensive to have them do it. You want that car serviced so that once it arrives in Bermuda, it is ready to go. And TCD expects certain standards for imports, anyway.
“Its a little research and work needed in advance, and that’s why some people use the local guy. And there is also a 10 per cent duty on taxis.
“But I’ve had my car three years now. I got it to Bermuda for under $6,000. I’ve had no problems with it. A lot of taxis have come in that route.”
The Japanese connection may have begun with larger vehicles.
Minibus buyers were early adopters of refurbished and renovated vehicles as the price of new vehicles climbed higher.
David Burgess, president of the Bermuda Executive MiniBus Alliance and operator of the St George and West End MiniBus, said that when he first purchased a second-hand minibus using the Asian route, the traditional suppliers in Bermuda were not bringing them in.
He said: “And when I got a quote, it was almost $100,000 for a new vehicle. I also had a quote for a 15-seater of $75,000. I wanted something larger – 28-30 seater – and a local importer said a special order would cost about $110,000 to $120,000.
“That was years ago when we were charging fares of $2 and $3 a ride. But we found a link to Japan and we were able to bring in three large buses – 29-seaters – around about 2001 or 2002, for about $30,000 each.
“You can go to Japanese websites – you have to do your homework – but you can find some great second-hand vehicles.
“You have to get TCD permission first, and the vehicles have to fit the required TCD specifications.
“From Japan, you can get a minibus in great condition, and shipped here, for $30,000 to $35,000. You can work with someone out there who can help you. When it arrives you are paying 33⅓ per cent duty.
“But you can get used vehicles from other places as well: Korea, England, Australia, Africa.”
A family business, St George and West End MiniBus is the island’s oldest minibus company, and the largest with a 16-bus fleet.
The government portal outlines the list of requirements for importing vehicles, including preparing them for entry into Bermuda.
In addition, importing any second-hand vehicle into the island comes with restrictions and requirements including the provision to Transport Control Department of a slew of documentation that speak to the history of ownership and suitability for Bermuda roads.