Want to scoop up a Lancia 037 overseas? You could be paying an extra 25 percent import duty on it if a proposed automobile tariff goes into effect unmodified.
Here’s yet another example of how enthusiast cars are often a regulatory afterthought — at best
JUNE 15, 2018
While most commentators and analysts have focused on the proposed tariffs’ potentially cataclysmic impact on the new-car market, the proposed policy has a nasty surprise in store for vintage car fans — namely, the import duty applies to all imported vehicles, not just the new ones. There’s no carve-out for classic sheetmetal. So whether you’re trying to ship in a brand-new all-American (but actually Brampton, Ontario-built) Dodge Challenger or a Chevy-powered ’66 Bizzarrini, you’re going to be forking over an extra 25 percent for the privilege.
This is a tenfold invoice over the current 2.5 percent duty for imported cars, which is waived for cars of American origin.
Earlier this week, Mark Hyman of Hyman Ltd. — a prominent St. Louis-based collector car dealer — circulated a letter alerting enthusiasts to the possible tariffs. It reads, in part:
“Clearly, the importation of classic and collectible vehicles has absolutely no impact on our national security, and these proposed tariffs would only serve to harm the countless individuals and independent businesses who buy, sell, restore and transport cars. The collector car hobby is a multibillion-dollar-per-year business, and we must work together to fight this ludicrous proposal. Washington bureaucrats have no understanding of the impact such a political stunt would cause; therefore, it is our responsibility to educate them.”
Hyman suggests removing all language related to “used automobiles and parts” from the language of the proposal; you can leave a public comment here if you are so moved.
Even if the 25 percent tariff is all bluster, its needlessly broad proposed impact is telling. It’s absurd to think that imported Isotta-Fraschinis somehow threaten the jobs of hardworking Hamtramck factory workers, and it’s unlikely (though, we suppose, not impossible) that anyone in Washington would ever make that argument. Indeed, unlike mass-market consumer vehicles, all collector cars are effectively luxury goods, no matter their value; massively increasing the penalty to import one could only hurt the livelihoods of those in the sales, service and accessory businesses here in the States.
We doubt that collector cars were one of the intended targets of this particular piece of policy; more likely, it’s a result of ignorance — another example of Hanlon’s Razor in action. Yet it should serve as a wake-up call to car enthusiasts of all stripes. And it’s hard to imagine things getting any better in the future, especially as alternative powertrains and advanced technologies like automotive autonomy gain traction.
If you’re an Autoweek reader, you care deeply about this stuff. Chances are, you want to be able to own and drive the sort of vehicles you enjoy indefinitely. But to those who make policy, enthusiast vehicles are a nonfactor when compared to the larger market for consumer cars. It makes no sense to treat enthusiast vehicles new or old like mass-market cars, but the reality is that enthusiast vehicles are simply not on the radar of those who make the rules — which is how we end up in situations like this.
Seeing vintage cars, and those who make their living serving the hobby that surrounds them, get caught up in the crossfires of a trade war is bad enough. But if it’s vintage cars this time around, it could easily be internal combustion-powered cars, or cars with human drivers, 20 or 25 years from now. Maybe sooner.
However this particular situation shakes out, consider it a taste of things to come — and a reminder that we should be prepared to be vocal defenders of car culture going forward.