THE vehicle parallel import trade is roaring back with a vengeance, propelled by a small and stylish Honda SUV which is speeding up the grey import sales chart.
Parallel imports or PIs are cars which are not offered by authorised distributors. After the recent slump in 2013, the industry has been steadily revving up again.
In the first six months of 2015, a total of 3,256 PIs were registered, according to the Land Transport Authority (LTA) - over four times the figure in the same period in 2014.
Registrations were led by the Honda Vezel with a whopping 1,242 units, or almost four out of every 10 cars (see table).
The Vezel is the domestic Japanese version of the Honda HR-V sold here by authorised distributor Kah Motor.
For context, the number of Vezels sold collectively by grey importers in H1 2015 is more than the total number of PI cars registered in 2013, which was 1,172 units.
The last time a grey Honda was this popular was in 2008, at the peak of the PI trade.
Then, the Honda Fit - the domestic version of the Honda Jazz - racked up collective sales of 4,815 units in a total of 23,142 PI cars that boom year.
The Vezel is "doing very well" because it is a new model which is spacious and reasonably priced, said a sales executive with a large parallel importer. The Vezel currently starts from about S$109,000 with COE.
They are mainly sought by those who have just scrapped their COE Category A cars, said the executive, who added: "Many of them also have young families. So the high seating and good luggage space are ideal for them."
But the allure of the Vezel is not good news for Kah Motor because it means that grey Hondas accounted for 49 per cent of the total 2,795 Hondas registered in Singapore between January and June, or almost half.
Overall though, Toyota is still the most popular PI brand. But its collective sales of 1,569 Toyota PIs account for only 30 per cent of the 5,299 units registered in the first half.
Mercedes-Benz PIs remain in third spot, but with just 217 registrations.
The parallel import industry is expected to thrive this year as the COE quota continues to expand and the number of mass market buyers jumps.
With 3,256 PIs notched up between January and June, the year-to- date proportion of PI cars is 12.6 per cent of the total 25,797 cars registered in the overall market.
This percentage puts it between the industry's full-year performance in 2009 and 2010, when the total PI market size was 4,533 and 2,346 units respectively.