Sound advice on grey imports

After servicing Nissans in New Zealand and South Africa, Brandon Morris has good advice for people attracted by the low prices of “grey” imports.

Brandon Morris, CMH Pietermaritzburg

Morris stepped into the very big gap left by the late Bernie Marimuthu, as service manager at CMH Nissan in Pietermaritzburg. Morris started working at CMH in Durban in 2006 and then spent two years at a private Nissan franchise in New Zealand before returning to SA for many reasons, but top of mind are family, weather, affordable food and a much better medical system.

He says he can trace his car genes back to his grandpa, an airplane mechanic who arrived in Durban from Scotland with, aptly enough, a Morris Minor still in its wooden crate. “My granddad assembled the Morris and sold it, so that’s how far my car roots go back,” says Morris.

He says the car cultures in the “Land of the Long White Cloud” and Mzansi could not be more different.

In the car trade, New Zealand is best known for allowing the sale of imported used vehicles from especially Japan in the 1980s, causing the demise of 13 car manufacturing plants that employed nearly 6,000 people. Apart from killing an industry, the cheap “grey imports” also changed New Zealanders’ attitude to their wheels. “Over there, a car is simply a disposable item. However, South Africans are a lot more demanding when it comes to our cars, and compared to New Zealand, where cars are often not even cleaned after a service, we go out of our way to take care of our customers,” says Morris.

He has a word of advice for people tempted to bring in a used car from any of SA’s neighbouring states: “Don’t.”

Morris explains grey cars are cheap because their price does not include after-sales service and a big depot full of parts. “When it comes to repairing them, more often than not grey cars end in the scrapyard for want of a small part.” He points out that cars are a big investment that requires care. “If I can give only one piece of advice to our clients, it’s to stick to the service schedule. My worst is when we open the sump and see that the oil has turned into gunk that cannot even drain out.”

Morris is guardedly optimistic about the post lockdown economy. "We live in a big country, we love our cars and we love to drive, all of which means we need a lot of servicing." Looking further down the road, he says his experience in servicing electric cars in New Zealand, especially Nissan Leafs, will stand him in good stead when electric cars become more common in South Africa. But even then, he points out all the experts predict that developing markets like South Africa will require parts for internal combustion cars for decades to come, because we drive our cars for 15 years or longer.

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