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Parallel import cars in the spotlight after report on Uber case

Company says it has worked with LTA, technical experts and ensured it has hands on deck to respond to vehicle recalls

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The Honda Vezel - a Japanese domestic model - is popular among parallel importers because it costs less than the export version, the HR-V, brought in by authorised Honda distributor Kah Motor. Uber is estimated to have bought more than 1,000 Vezels a year over the last three years.

Singapore

APART from disappearing deposits and shuttered shops, there could be another cautionary tale behind patronising parallel importers - ignored safety recalls.

The after-sales service for parallel import (PI) car models has come under scrutiny, after private-hire company Uber was exposed for not taking action to repair some of its Singapore vehicles that had been involved in a recall.

Uber managers in Singapore had rented out more than 1,000 Honda Vezel cars to drivers, despite knowing that the model had been recalled in April 2016, and even after one caught fire in January, said The Wall Street Journal.

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The report said the fire broke out after the Uber driver had dropped off a passenger. The flames melted the interior of the car and left a hole in the windscreen.

In response, an Uber spokesman said: "As soon as we learned of a Honda Vezel from the Lion City Rental (LCR) fleet catching fire, we took swift action to fix the problem in close coordination with Singapore's Land Transport Authority as well as technical experts. But we acknowledge we could have done more - and we have done so.''

The company added that it has introduced "robust protocols and hired three dedicated experts in-house at LCR, whose sole job is to ensure we are fully responsive to safety recalls".

It added: "Since the beginning of the year, we've proactively responded to six vehicle recalls and will continue to do so to protect the safety of everyone who uses Uber."

The Straits Times reported on Saturday that Land Transport Authority records showed only 9 per cent of Uber's fleet of defective Honda Vezel cars have been fixed.

Uber is estimated to have bought more than 1,000 Honda Vezel cars a year over the last three years, propelling the PI model to the top of the sales chart as Singapore's all-round No 1 model in 2015 and 2016. And after the first six months of 2017, the Honda compact crossover continues to lead the pack. The Vezel is a domestic Japanese model. Its PI popularity comes from its costing less than the export version of this model, namely, the HR-V brought in by authorised Honda distributor Kah Motor.

The HR-V is unaffected by the recall.

Kah Motor general manager Nicholas Wong said: "The Vezel is a domestic model and not approved for export, unlike the HR-V."

The HR-V has a higher open market value or OMV, and a lower rebate under the Carbon Emissions-based Vehicle Scheme (CEVS) - S$5,000 versus the Vezel's S$10,000 rebate.

Mr Wong said that consumers are "free to buy from anyone they choose", but added: "'Buyer beware' still applies and at Kah Motor, we are the authorised distributor in Singapore who will definitely take care of any vehicles purchased from us, including recalls and warranties."

Buying a car is not like buying an electronics item, he said. "You need follow-up and after-sales. We are not always 100 per cent perfect, but as soon as we detect a problem, we initiate a recall with prompt measures to fix it."

Vincent Tan, managing director of VinCar, one of Singapore's biggest parallel importers, said that despite regular reports of PI salesmen running off with customer deposits and PI operations going out of business, it is still safe to buy a parallel import.

"It depends who you buy it from, because some dealers may ignore the recall or some may have gone bust." He said that by law, a car dealer has to participate in a recall by replacing any defective parts. "So you should buy from a reputable dealer."

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