Lamborghini. Ferrari. Porsche.
Brands like these have made the auto import business an alluring field for would-be entrepreneurs. But whether you're importing high-end sports cars or low-end Hyundais, unexpected customs and duty requirements can quickly derail your business model and send your profit margins into a tailspin.
Cars and other motor vehicles are subject to special import regulations that have been designed to protect the environment and U.S. drivers. In addition to customizing foreign-made motor vehicles to meet the demands of American auto buyers, you'll need to make sure your vehicles conform to U.S. safety, bumper and emission standards.
If you wait until your vehicles are in transit to research import requirements, you've already lost the battle. The time to explore customs, EPA and DOT import standards is before you enter into a purchase contract with a foreign manufacturer. Rather than taking the manufacturer's word for it, conduct your own research – starting with a few basic guidelines for importing foreign autos.
Vehicles imported to the U.S. fall under multiple laws including several pieces of safety legislation, the Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act of 1988, the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act of 1972, and the emissions standards described in the Clean Air Act. Auto manufacturers based in the U.S. are intimately familiar with these laws and have adjusted their processes to create products that are fully compliant. Despite their assurances, foreign manufacturers often fail to produce legally compliant vehicles, resulting in imported vehicles that need to be brought into compliance, sent back to the country of origin, or destroyed.
Tips for Importers
Information is your most important asset when importing motor vehicles to the United States. The Department of Homeland Security posts detailed information about vehicle import requirements on their website at www.cbp.gov.
Never rely on a foreign auto manufacturer for import advice. To ensure a seamless delivery, you should consider hiring a customs broker with a proven background in motor vehicle importing. A good customs broker will walk you through the process and verify that the vehicles meets U.S. standards.
Also, it's important to have buyers or distributors lined up before you invest capital in foreign vehicles. Profit margins can be tight in the import game (duties alone are 2.5% of vehicle value) and you won't be able to deeply discount prices if you're suddenly stuck with a large foreign vehicle inventory.