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Australian guide to importing an electric vehicle

Have you seen the range of EVs available overseas and thought about buying one in Europe or the USA and importing it Australia? It’s not as difficult as you think, but it’s not necessarily easy either. In this article I’ll give a brief rundown of what’s required to import an electric vehicle into Australia.

The first step to importing a car to Australia is obtaining a permit from the government. There’s over 17 different kinds of permits available. It’s a bit of a mess thanks to years of regulation designed to protect the Australian car manufacturing industry, that ironically no longer exists, but the laws remain. Of all the permits available, the Specialist & Enthusiast Vehicle Scheme (SEVS) is the one pertinent to EV importation. The SEVS allows people to import cars that meet a list of criteria. For EVs, there’s two relevant ones:

1. The car can’t have been on sale in Australia in the past, or if it has been on sale in Australia, the car has to be at least a year older than the last car of that kind sold locally. A Tesla Model S for example can’t be imported under this permit as it’s still on sale here.

2. Must have been on sale in the overseas market for more than 18 months. For example, the latest generation Nissan LEAF went on sale in Japan in October 2017. That means in roughly April 2019, it can technically be imported.

If the car you’re after meets that criteria, you can apply to have it placed on the Register of Specialist and Enthusiast Vehicles (RSEV). The only EV currently on the register is the Nissan LEAF AZE0, which was added only recently. To get a car added to the register, you can technically just send in this form the government and have them assess it, but it’s probably wise to have someone who’s done it before (i.e: a professional importer) submit the form for a higher chance of success.

Once the car is added to the register, it can be imported via the Registered Automotive Workshop Scheme (RAWS). This entails a using licensed RAWS workshop to do what is known as “compliance” work to the car. According to Geoff Risbey at Prestige Motorsport, “for most cars it would be a noise test, emissions test (not really applicable to an EV), check/replace tyres, Australian placarding, 17 digit VIN, child restraint anchorages, etc”. Taking a Nissan LEAF AZE0 as our example, compliance is around $2,500.

After you’ve dealt with the government red tape, the next step is to find the car you want to buy. Ideally you want to stick to right hand drive models, as converting a car from LHD to RHD is expensive and cumbersome. That leaves the UK and Japan as practical options to import an EV – the USA is a waste of time, as once you’ve done the LHD to RHD conversion, you’ve probably spent more than the cost of buying a local EV.

Japan is the best market to grab a car from as not only is there a massive used car export industry and lots of Australians importing cars from Japan already (i.e: Skylines, Supras, Evos, etc.), but thanks to the free trade agreement between Japan and Australia, you don’t need to pay duty (5%) on top of the GST like you do if importing from the UK.

For the Japanese market, I’ve found Japan Car Direct’s search engine a great way to see upcoming and previous auctions, as is the Prestige Motorsport auction search. For the UK market, there’s auction houses like BCA and Manheim, plus traditional used car listings like Gumtree and Autotrader. They’re all pretty self explanatory, so I won’t dwell on how to view the available cars there.

How much does it actually cost to bring a car in from Japan or the UK? Good question! Prestige Motorsport has a great Excel spreadsheet explaining the costs involved in bringing a car to Australia. The costs are:

The original purchase price in JPY/GBP converted to AUD – TransferWise has realistic rates & fees

GST – 10% of the AUD purchase price, which if you run a business can be claimed back

Duty – 5% of the AUD purchase price (not applicable if buying from Japan)

Shipping – roughly $2000, depends where you are in AU and if you want it insured

Importer’s fee – the cost of someone to handle all the paperwork plus pre & post-sale requirements, $1100 for Prestige Motorsport, but pricing varies from importer to importer

Compliance – the cost for the RAWS workshop to get your car up to spec for Australian roads. Varies greatly but for an EV should be around $2,500

State Stamp Duty – varies from state to state, in Victoria for a car under $66,331, it’s $8.40 per $200 of the market value or part thereof (i.e: 4.2%)

Registration – also varies from state to state and even where you live in that state, you can find out this cost on your state’s road authority website

It sounds expensive, but for Japan in particular, used cars are quite cheap and there’s no duty, so it can be quite an attractive proposition for an EV. The downside of the Japanese used car market is that there are not many EVs in Japan. The only EV on sale in Japan really is the Nissan LEAF. There’s two models of the LEAF, the older 24kWh/30kWh AZE0 and the newer “2nd generation” 40kWh AZE1. As mentioned earlier, the AZE0 is on the RSEV can can be imported into Australia now. The AZE1 cannot just yet. A full overview of importing a Nissan LEAF from Japan into Australia will be on Drive Zero shortly – as these are the most realistic EVs to be importing and the AZE1 in particular is a car I’m keen on.

The UK has many more EVs to choose from than Japan, but due to the SEVS criteria mentioned at the start of this article, the only EVs on sale in the UK that are eligible to be placed on the RSEV, that could theoritically be imported into Australia are the VW e-Golf, VW e-Up and Kia Soul EV. Cars that are plentiful on the used UK market like the BMW i3, Renault Zoe and Tesla Model S/Model X are on sale in Australia already, so cannot be imported. The Hyundai Ioniq or Kona can’t be imported because they don’t meet the “on sale in the overseas market for more than 18 months” requirement. Also note that cars exported from the UK don’t incur VAT (their version of the GST, which is 20%!) – a good importer will assist in obtaining a VAT refund.

If you can find a car you like, at the price you want, get on the phone to a car importer and tell them what you want to do. I keep bringing up Prestige Motorsport, but whilst writing this article, Geoff Risbey over there was an immense help. He also has qualifications in Environmental Science and is a keen EV enthusiast – unlike some of the other importers who are fossil fuel petrol heads.

You’d think this is where the article would end – but you’re wrong. The vehicle import laws are changing, so what I described above has a limited life-span of usefulness! The federal government has been working on the “Road Vehicle Standards Bill 2018” that amongst other things, allows for cars with zero emissions to be added to the Register of Specialist and Enthusiast Vehicles (RSEV) if it isn’t already on sale in AU and has been on sale overseas for more than 3 months (instead of 18 months). It also removes a lot of the restrictions around the Registered Automotive Workshop Scheme (RAWS) that’ll mean compliance costs should drop and more workshops can do the work.

Theoritically, this will make it easier and slightly cheaper to import an EV into Australia, but unfortunatley the Road Vehicle Standards Bill 2018 has been stuck in Parliament since mid-2018 and doesn’t seem like it will get looked at again this year. On top of that, the bill has a 12 month transition period, so even if the bill was approved early 2019, the existing rules apply until early 2020.

So as it stands in late-2018, to get an EV from overseas (ideally Japan or the UK), the process is as follows:

  • The car needs to meet the Specialist & Enthusiast Vehicle Scheme (SEVS) import permit criteria
  • The car has to be placed on the Register of Specialist and Enthusiast Vehicles (RSEV)
  • You need a licened Registered Automotive Workshop Scheme workshop that will do compliance work for the vehicle
  • Scoured the Japanese and UK auction/used car sale sites for an applicable vehicle
  • Worked out the costs: car’s purchase price in AUD, GST, Duty (if applicable), shipping, importer’s fee, compliance, stamp duty & rego
  • Contacted a car importer to discuss getting your ideal vehicle shipped over
  • Wait a few weeks/months for the car to arrive in Australia & have the workshop do the compliance work
  • Receive your EV!

If you’ve noticed anything wrong about my post, please leave a comment to let me know, so I can amend it in the future.

Anthony also produces The Sizzle - a daily email newsletter covering all aspects of technology with an Australian point of view.

Notable Replies

  1. I would love to read a similar article with respect to motorcycles…?

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