Three of Australia’s top five car brands hit by new quarantine delays

It is quarantine season at Australian ports. An increasing number of car-carrying ships are being delayed to clear overseas biosecurity hazards. Is your next car affected?

Three of Australia’s top-five selling automotive brands – Toyota, Mazda and Mitsubishi – are the latest car giants to get caught up in the quarantine crisis on Australian docks caused by infestations involving foreign plant seeds.

They join MG, Nissan and Volkswagen, which have already reported delays in local deliveries as cars are given extra cleaning to remove seeds and pass through quarantine.

Ford and Isuzu – who source utes and four-wheel-drives out of Thailand – are also understood to be caught up in the latest delays, after vehicles were stored for several weeks in paddocks before being loaded onto car-carrying ships bound for Australia.

More than 10,000 vehicles are believed to be caught up in the latest rounds of delays.

A person involved in the quarantine process, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Drive car-makers need to take better precautions when storing their vehicles before being loaded on ships bound for Australia.

“Car companies have the money and the resources to fix this,” said the quarantine expert. “They need to store their cars in areas free of contamination before being loaded (onto a ship). They can’t keep hoping that Australian border control officials are going to give them a free pass or not notice (any biosecurity hazards).

“Australia has a fragile eco-system free of many pests. Seeds and insects can have a catastrophic effect (if let into Australia). This is not a quarantine issue, this is the car-makers not taking the necessary precautions and efforts to make sure their cars are free of pests.

“Car companies need to ask themselves, it is easier to prevent these type of problems in the first place, or pay to have them fixed in Australian ports and get hit with extra costs and lengthy delays?”

An industry insider with knowledge of the latest quarantine drama claims the delays caused by quarantine cleaning could last “between 15 and 22 weeks”.

“It’s a painful process and this will take a long time to rectify. But I believe cars are still flowing,” he said.

This season’s quarantine delays was were first reported by Drive last week after a new-car buyer was advised of an extra two-month delivery delay by Volkswagen Australia because of a backlog in the quarantine cleaning of cars.

Unlike previous quarantine problems linked to brown marmorated stink bugs, dating back to 2019 and also previously reported by Drive, the Department of Agriculture confirmed it was now battling a new biosecurity hazard from plant seeds.

However, neither the Department of Agriculture – or the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, which represents the motor industry in Australia – will reveal the full extent of the problem so far this year.

Oddly, in move that appears to be an attempt to downplay the scale of the problem, representatives for both the Department of Agriculture and the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries claimed the number of vehicles and the car companies affected was private and confidential information – even though such information would better inform customers stuck in the queue.

“These questions address commercial-in-confidence information and are best directed to industry,” a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture told Drive.

A statement from the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries said: “We are aware of several challenges in processing new vehicle arrivals through Australian ports. One of the issues is the need to ensure that all new vehicle arrivals are free of biosecurity risk material.”

“The FCAI is engaged with Government and Port Operators on this issue and is working to get vehicles to customers as soon as possible while ensuring that all product released to the Australian market is free from biosecurity risk.

“The seasonality of this risk and other factors can lead to slower than usual clearance of the vehicles through import terminals.  Currently, we are aware of several brands facing these issues at the Port of Melbourne. We continue to monitor the situation at other ports.

“At any given time, there may be thousands of vehicles passing through Australian ports. As a result, short term bottlenecks in processing occasionally occur.  The industry and terminal operators constantly review procedures to accelerate processing times.”

Toyota Australia is downplaying the biosecurity risk and any effect on its deliveries.

“The Department of Agriculture conducts regular checks of ships and, where it deems it necessary, temporarily applies a quarantine while the cargo is cleaned. Toyota co-operates fully in what is a standard biosecurity process, which does not unduly delay delivery of vehicles,” a spokesperson for Toyota Australia told Drive.

Mazda Australia declined to respond with any details of port delays involving its vehicles and directed enquiries to the FCAI, however Drive has been reliably informed Mazda is among the car brands affected.

Why car companies are seeking to downplay the reason behind the new round of delays is baffling, say well-placed dealer sources.

“Customers are frustrated. The car companies need to be more transparent. By not informing customers, they think we are hiding something from them. It’s time for car companies to put on their big boy pants and be upfront about this stuff,” said the dealer source.

Meantime, a spokesperson for Mitsubishi, which has been transparant about the reasons behind the latest delays, told Drive: “Our understanding is there have been five vessels quarantined with MMAL (Mitsubishi Motors Australia Limited) vehicles on board, over three ports – Queensland, Victoria, South Australia.

“It seems to be this time of year – and this year is no exception. As to the cause, it appears the seeds … are part of it, but the team can’t say for sure that it’s the only issue the dock operators at looking at.

“We don’t have any further information on the delivery impacts at this stage, but we have heard there will be additional shifts at the ports put on to try and clear the backlog ASAP. We are also working with the dealer network to ensure customers are being kept updated.”

Paul Gover

Paul Gover has been a motoring journalist for more than 40 years, working on newspapers, magazines, websites, radio and television. A qualified general news journalist and sports reporter, his passion for motoring led him to Wheels, Motor, Car Australia, Which Car and Auto Action magazines. He is a champion racing driver as well as a World Car of the Year judge.

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