Increased demand and biosecurity threats behind latest long waits for imported cars

Increased demand and biosecurity threats behind latest long waits for imported cars

Key points

  • Customers are waiting up to a year for new cars to arrive. 
  • Cleaning biosecurity risk material is adding to the delays. 
  • China was the biggest source of contaminated cars last year. 

Australians are waiting up to a year for their new cars as soaring demand, supply issues and biosecurity threats have led to a backlog of tens of thousands of imported vehicles sitting in the country’s docks awaiting cleaning.

Delays for new cars had already blown out dramatically during the pandemic because of shortages of parts but increased biosecurity threats are hampering efforts to ease supply chain issues.

Imported cars at the Melbourne International RoRo and Auto Terminal in Port Melbourne.Credit:Joe Armao

The average wait time for a new car was 137 days in January, a marginal improvement from a peak of 159 days in August 2022, compared with 30 days in 2019, according to vehicle sale comparison website Price My Car.

The data, based on quotes from car dealerships across the country, show customers are facing the longest waits for the Toyota C-HR (318 days), Mazda MX-5 (303 days), Toyota LandCruiser (291 days), Volkswagen Caravelle (285 days) and Toyota Yaris (268 days).

A Port of Melbourne spokesman said supply chain issues meant vehicles were being stored longer – sometimes in paddocks – before they were shipped to Australia, increasing their likelihood of collecting soil, seeds, plant material and live insects that present a biosecurity risk.

The number of new cars referred for cleaning due to contamination rose 88 per cent over a year, from 17,700 in 2021 to 33,300 in 2022, while the number of vehicles imported to the country increased from 939,000 in 2021 to 1,099,117 in 2022, federal government data shows.

The Port of Melbourne has been heavily affected by the need for quarantine cleaning, a Hyundai spokesman said, with delays of at least three weeks.Credit:Arsineh Houspian

Electrician Mark Magill and his business partner each ordered a tray truck in April last year and were told the cars would arrive in January.

He tracked the vehicles to the Port of Melbourne, watching them doing “circle work” for more than two weeks as the ship waited to dock.

The cars are now sitting on the docks, he said.

Magill and his business partner Dave Bryan have had to rely on one vehicle owned by the business as well as the cars of apprentices and family members.

Electrician Mark Magill and business partner Dave Bryan ordered new cars in April, but they’re still waiting for them to be cleared at the docks.Credit:Eddie Jim

“We’ve got five guys working out of one van,” he said. “It’s hurting us mentally, that’s for sure.”

Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said Australia was experiencing delays in vehicle clearance because of biosecurity threats to Australian agriculture.

“These risks are growing all the time and that is putting a burden on our biosecurity system,” he said.

“Australia remains free of major exotic pests and diseases that are currently harming the agriculture sector of neighbouring countries.”

Imported pests and disease can cause extensive damage to both farms and the natural environment.

Australia’s biosecurity protection system was thrust into the spotlight last year after foot and mouth disease was detected in pork products in Melbourne.

Outbreaks of the disease overseas have resulted in millions of livestock being euthanised and burned. But foreign seeds and insects attaching themselves to cars are among the biggest concerns for Australia’s agriculture sector from imported cars.

China was the top source of contaminated vehicles last year, with 10,900 failing biosecurity tests from a total of 148,200. Thailand was next, with 4200 contaminated vehicles out of 241,200, followed by Spain with 3900 out of 18,000.

Australians bought 1,081,429 new cars last year, according to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, which was a 3 per cent bump from 2021 and 18 per cent jump from 2020. Almost 4 per cent of new cars sold last year were electric, which was an 86 per cent jump from the previous year, according to the Electric Vehicle Council.

Australian Automotive Dealers Association chief executive James Voortman said the biosecurity bottleneck was compounding existing delays from manufacturers caused by a pandemic-inflicted shortage of semiconductors.

“The industry’s been turned on its head,” he said.

National Farmers Federation chief executive Tony Mahar says Australia is suffering from under investment in biosecurity.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

“Prior to COVID, we had a steady stream of supply coming into the country and customers were able to get vehicles relatively quickly. Now that’s completely changed.”

Voortman said before the pandemic, customers generally waited no longer than a couple of weeks or at worst three months for their vehicle, but now they faced waits of up to 12 months on some models.

“We believe that the microchip and the semiconductor issue is slowly resolving itself. [But] we still think we’re going to have disruptions for at least the next nine months and possibly beyond.”

National Farmers Federation chief executive Tony Mahar said farmers had also faced long delays to import agricultural machinery, including tractors, in recent years.

“That’s a symptom of a greater problem and that is the under-investment and under-resourcing of biosecurity,” he said.

But soaring demand also contributed to delays, he said.

Mahar said successive governments had not committed enough funding to protect Australia from biosecurity risks, including Foot and Mouth Disease and Lumpy Skin Disease.

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