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New car import laws could accelerate R1234yf growth in Australia

The Abbott Government’s proposal to relax new vehicle importation laws and enable personal imports of new cars could accelerate the uptake of R1234yf in Australia if the legislation passes.

On some production lines, only models destined for countries where low global warming potential refrigerants are either compulsory or receive fuel efficiency credits are fitted with R1234yf systems, while variants that will be shipped to Australia are built with cheaper R134a systems and gas.

Another factor is the country of origin. To increase production capacity while taking advantage of low labour rates, favourable taxation regimes and local free trade agreements, the same model could be produced in numerous locations around the world.

Webb dock in Port Melbourne
Webb Dock in Port Melbourne

For example Ford Australia sources mainstream Focus and Fiesta variants from Thailand, where low labour rates and a free trade agreement with Australia – not to mention shipping proximity – help deliver a competitive price and better profit margins.

Meanwhile high-end sports variants like the Focus ST, Fiesta ST and some special editions remain sourced from Europe.

The Ford example is repeated across numerous brands. Many VASA members will know about the Nissan D40 Navara that was sourced from both Spain and Thailand, with dramatically different HVAC systems depending on where they were built.

Steve Pohlner
Steve Pohlner

It means someone personally importing a right-hand-drive car from the UK is likely to end up with an R1234yf system. If you want proof, look to New Zealand, where R1234yf cars started arriving way earlier than in Australia.

Ford Asia Pacific & Africa environmental facilities supervisor for vehicle evaluation and verification, Steve Pohlner, confirmed to SightGlass News that production lines exist on which cars are either fitted with R1234yf or R134a systems depending on destination.

“There are vehicles like that out there. There are vehicles designed for both markets, where they’ve gone with R134a in one variant and R1234yf in another variant,” he said.

“I think Mondeo might be one where they already have it with a R1234yf system (for Europe) but they’re bringing it into Australia with a R134a system in it.”

However Mr Pohlner, at least from a Ford perspective, believed the European factories will make a complete switch to R1234yf next year.

Jamie Briggs
Jamie Briggs

At the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Expo in Melbourne on April 16, assistant minister for infrastructure and regional development, Jamie Briggs, outlined proposed changes to the Australian Motor Vehicles Standards Act.

He said that under the new rules, the definition of a new car for import purposes would be less than 12 months old or with less than 4000km on the clock.

One change under the Motor Vehicle Standards Act review would be the alignment of Australian vehicle standards with other overseas markets, eliminating some of the unique Australian Design Rules that favour local manufacturers and cause headaches for importers.

“We will have the same standards as other countries and if the price is better for consumers in those countries, with the same car, with the same standards, you have to ask the question why are we stopping people from accessing those markets,” said Mr Briggs.

Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association executive director Stuart Charity welcomed the proposed legislation changes.

Stuart Charity
Stuart Charity

“With the closure of passenger car manufacturing in Australia, the local demand for new vehicles will be satisfied totally with imports. Aligning Australian with international standards will reduce bureaucratic red tape, reduce prices and make our market more competitive,” he said.

However at the opening of the Expo, Labor Senator Kim Carr railed against the proposal, saying Australia has “safety standards in this country for a reason”.

“He (Mr Briggs) is suggesting people can personally import their vehicles … The car dealership industry in this country has grave cause for concern about that matter. There will be job losses as a result of this decision.”