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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Grey-market Toyotas dominate imports

The Toyota Camry was the country’s most imported car.
The Toyota Camry was the country’s most imported car. Eli Meixler

Grey-market Toyotas dominate imports

A leaked Department of Customs and Excise document hints at the buying habits of the Kingdom’s car drivers

Cambodia’s most imported car in the first five months of the year was the Toyota Camry, according to a government report, which revealed that the vast majority of cars entered the country through unofficial channels.

A General Department of Customs and Excise document obtained by Post Weekend showed that although 2,827 Toyota Camry models entered the Kingdom, fewer than 2 per cent of those were imported by Toyota’s local affiliate. The rest were by imported by parallel importers – merchants with no links to the manufacturers – onto the murky “grey market”.

Ly Bunhay, general manager of Toyota Cambodia, said brand recognition is no problem for the company – the Camry, he said, has dominated the Kingdom’s roads since the 1990s thanks to imports from the US, where it has been the most sold car since 1997.

It is, however, difficult to compete with the grey market’s low prices, despite the lack of warranty and credible information on the cars’ origins. “If [customers] are looking only at the prices, that maybe is very hard for us,” said Bunhay.

Authorised car retail is the exception for all brands, with 12,343 of the 13,470 sedans, minivans, SUVs and pickup trucks arriving through parallel importers.

Nissan, whose cars were the second most imported, had only 57 of its 662 cars imported through its official affiliate, while none of the 1,410 Lexus (a Toyota brand) imported to the Kingdom arrived through official channels.

The popularity of grey market cars, said Bunhay, is largely due to the lack of financing options for most Cambodians, even as the car companies try to accommodate the Kingdom’s almost complete lack of credit rating. Cheaper is best for most customers, he said, even if the low price tag comes with low reliability. 

Seng Hak, who owns the 669 MHH Auto Shop on Street 61, said his grey market cars appeal to customers who might eventually sell them because new cars immediately drop in value once they are sold.

“The local secondhand cars are popular and attractive to our customers because, when they buy them from my shop, they can sell it back with a small difference from the original price,” he said, adding that used cars have also had their sales taxes already paid. Short-term warranty is provided and he is able to screen cars for quality as he only acquires his merchandise locally.

But Graeme Hunter, general director of Precision Cars, which is the official Porsche importer, said that car owners buying from the grey market have no assurance that the car is any good. Parallel imports, he said, were often written-off in developed countries before being exported abroad for repairs that would have been prohibitively expensive elsewhere.

He said: “The car can be stolen; the car could have been smashed. There’s no way to check, so you’re spending $150,000 and perhaps the car is not all what it appears to be.”

In addition to the guaranteed provenance and warranties that come from authorised retailers, Hunter said that Porsche and other importers sell cars that have been specifically tailored for the Cambodian market. With lower fuel qualities in Cambodia, he explained, high-performance vehicles ought to be fine-tuned to compensate.

Of the 12 Porsches imported between January and May, four were imported by Precision, according to Customs Department documents. Its first car was sold in August, said Hunter, adding that attitudes to the grey market are changing.

“People’s buying habits are changing; they like to have a better retailer experience. Why would you buy it anywhere else other than the main dealer, who has the manufacturer’s backing?”

Most imported cars*
• Toyota Camry (2,827)
• Toyota Highlander (2,615)
• Lexus RX300 (986)
• Nissan Frontier (934)
• Toyota Tacoma (718)
• Toyota Prius (714)
• Toyota Corolla (627)
• Toyota RAV4 (514)
• Kia Visto (321)
• Toyota Hilux (210)
*From January to May 2014

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