Dealers say some buyers paid fees instead

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Used car dealers claim that some customers who expect a discount on a clean car are instead charged a fee, as the official data changes even when the vehicle is sold.

By Phil Pennington of rnz.co.nz

The Clean Car Discount program should change erroneous or missing emissions or safety rating data as it happens.

Christchurch car dealer Peter Cullen has a dozen virtually identical Mazda Azelas on his lot at Value Cars Warehouse, which he had marked as having discounts.

But last week, when he went to print a window sticker for the latest Azela, Rightcar’s official website produced something else. “It’s actually a royalty now, it changed along the way.

“Then I went to check out all the previous models. We already marked them as discounts, which they were, and now it looks like they’re all fresh.”

The fee is $470 and the rebate is around $500.

Because Cullen is convinced that the new data is wrong and that the cars should get a discount, he is reluctant to change the window stickers – even though it might require him to pay the difference for the customer.

“I know it’s not a paid car. But how can we prove that? I don’t know. The public will blame us, not the government.”

He also had cars with chassis numbers separated by a car, where one had no charge and the other had a charge.

The agency’s response was “fluffy,” simply saying the data had changed, he said.

“The government is forcing us to deceive the public,” he said.

Several other dealers said they had problems with a popular Honda sedan where the safety rating changed: Some three-stars got a discount, some two-stars didn’t, they said.

Documents released under the OIA show that transport authorities knew they had poor data to determine a rebate or fee before the program launched in April.

A Department for Transport report on used car CO2 emissions data, how emissions are tested and fuel consumption states: “Nothing reliable for used vehicles until June 2019 – high non-compliance since then as well”.

NZTA Waka Kotahi said it carried out regular updates from January to April to clean up this data, and it has continued ever since.

Internal emails released to 30 files under the Official Information Act say the agency is dealing with “incorrect” motor vehicle registration data that requires a “workaround”.

Plug and charging cable for electric car

These show that major Japanese car importer Nichibo has called the system a “minefield”.

“Work continues to correct, with a cycle of 2-3 data updates every week, to continually improve the underlying data,” Waka Kotahi’s program director emailed April 8, Sept. days after launch.

During just one such update, on April 6, the records for over 298 vehicles were fixed and 830 were rejected.

Waka Kotahi insisted that the responsibility for providing accurate data rests with the importer of the vehicle.

His service was “not the only, or even the preferred data source,” he said. Waka Kotahi and the Department of Transportation had worked since 2019 to improve data rules, he said.

Emails from the OIA show about 30 dealerships asking the agency to urgently correct the data within a week of the launch.

“Errors are now displayed on Toyota NZ and in-store advertising, misleading the public and creating reputational risk,” Toyota NZ said April 8.

Toyota told RNZ last week “there are no ongoing data issues”. Several other dealers agreed, but others said the problems persisted, with one saying hybrids and plug-in hybrids were the worst. Some pay $300 per car for guaranteed emissions data on used European imports.

The emails show that Waka Kotahi was keen in April to tell the media that the problems were minor, that they had settled down, although he was unsure of their magnitude. “We are still struggling to get numbers that we are sure of,” a communications official said April 8 as he prepared a report for the transport minister, following media inquiries.

After RNZ reported that the industry was saying thousands of cars could be affected, the communications team said: ‘If we can convincingly pour cold water on this that would be good.’

Around the same time, a senior executive said “the information required is hard to come by.” Another said overall there was a “very low number” of issues, but added: “As we have more cases than expected, there is a spike, and we are working on each of them. them as quickly as possible”.

The Department of Transportation questioned Waka Kotahi about a deficiency where “hundreds of models” of late-model Japanese imports appeared to be missing the correct identifiers.

“Without these, it means that the wrong CO2 value will be attributed to many used imports manufactured from 2018 onwards, and likely to all used imports manufactured from the beginning of 2021 onwards,” said the responsible for the ministry. “It may also reduce consumers’ ability to experience the full set of low-emission car options.”

The agency’s lead adviser on clean cars, Iain McGlinchy, replied: “It’s hard to tell from the emails how big the problem is. There seem to be more questions than answers to the question. ‘actual hour.”

He also urged his team to address a separate issue the program imposed a full charge on cars that lacked emissions data. “It’s important to find out why the system seems to skip the other steps,” McGlinchy said April 7.

On April 27, the agency told RNZ that there were no “system issues” and that a total of 145 vehicles had had their emissions data queried.

The OIA emails contain an estimate of 5% of used cars affected and speak of the team “deeply solving the problem”.

Waka Kotahi, in a statement, said it was the responsibility of car dealerships to review emissions data by querying it with a vehicle’s certifier when it is imported or by generating a label in Fuelsaver.

The agency was following guidelines when CO2 data was missing, which could be because certifiers entered it incorrectly or the vehicle was not yet certified.

Dealers had to be as specific as possible to find the correct data on Rightcar, such as using a chassis number.

The agency did not comment on the current quality of its own data and did not say whether it had fixed the issue of its system “skipping” steps and not paying the full amount when there was no data on a car.


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