What the Road Vehicle Standards Bill means for consumers

Transport minister empowered to demand recalls; vehicle approval process streamlined.

The Federal Parliament has passed new legislation to establish an operating framework for the future of the Australian automotive industry.

Replacing the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989, which was last reviewed 17 years ago, the Road Vehicle Standards Bill 2018 might be best described as legislation that streamlines many aspects of vehicle importation.

Current Minister for Transport Paul Fletcher MP formally gains greater powers under the bill and can insist on a vehicle recall if there is genuine need based on public safety. Such was the case with the Takata airbag scandal, which resulted in the death of a Honda driver in Sydney. Up to this point, the ACCC could issue a compulsory recall notice, but the Minister for Transport couldn't.

Central to the new legislation is the 'Register of Approved Vehicles' (RAV), which puts an end to the compliance plate of old. Currently, the compliance plate is typically riveted to the firewall of every vehicle registered for road use in Australia. It contains identifying information about the car, including the month and year it was deemed to comply with Australian Design Rules.

Under the new legislation, vehicles registered for the first time in Australia, including grey imports, are not required to be fitted with a compliance plate. Instead, prospective buyers will be able to check that the vehicle complies with Australian Design Rules (ADRs) by entering the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) in the RAV, which will be accessible online.

Compliant vehicles can be entered in the RAV through two 'pathways': the type approval pathway and the concessional pathway. The former is the standard process for vehicle compliance that car companies will use to import, distribute, sell and register new cars and commercial vehicles in Australia.

The pathway less travelled

Vehicles that would not or are not available through the type approval pathway can be entered in the RAV through the concessional pathway if they meet the following conditions:

  • High-performance vehicles significantly superior to mainstream vehicles in Australia;
  • Vehicles originally manufactured as left-hand-drive without right-hand drive counterparts;
  • Vehicles of which only small quantities have been produced;
  • Vehicles that offer environmental performance significantly superior to mainstream vehicles in Australia;
  • Vehicles manufactured with special features to assist people with a disability;
  • Vehicles that have been originally manufactured as a campervan or motorhome.

A vehicle such as the Dodge Challenger Hellcat could arguably be imported on the basis of its superior performance and the lack of a right-hand drive equivalent. Whether it would be considered low-volume appears open to interpretation.

In the event a local importer fails to register a new model in RAV through the type approval pathway within three months, a private importer is entitled to bring the vehicle in through the Specialist and Enthusiast Vehicles (SEVs) Register as a concessional entry.

That applies down to variant level too, not just the broader model line. Assuming that Shelby Mustangs are ruled out for Australia by Ford, the high-performance models could still be imported here privately, even though the Mustang model line is already officially sold by Ford in Australia.

Still on the subject of Mustangs, a case could be made for importing the very limited Mustang Cobra Jet under the new legislation, which allows for non-compliant vehicles to be imported. But as they would not be entered in RAV, they could not be registered for the road. They would be track cars only.

Industry response

The bill, which received bi-partisan support in parliament, will cut type approval costs for the automotive industry by around $68 million, for which it has been well received by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI)

"We welcome the passage of the Road Vehicle Standards Bill and congratulate both the Government and the Opposition for their bipartisanship on this very important piece of legislation," said Tony Weber, FCAI Chief Executive.

"The new motor vehicle industry plays an important role in the lives of everyday Australians, with vehicles remaining one of the most significant household and business purchases.

"The new Act will ensure that Australians have access to new vehicles with state-of-the-art safety technology in a similar timeframe to the rest of the world.

"We will work with the government in the development of enabling rules to ensure that the Specialist and Enthusiast Vehicle Scheme (SEVs) meets its intent of providing unique vehicles without creating a ‘de-facto' broad used import vehicle scheme" Weber was quoted as saying in a press release.

ANCAP, the Australasian New Car Assessment Program, has also offered its praise for the new legislation in a press release, the safety authority tipping that the changes to the type-approval process will open up the market for newer, safer vehicles. As will ongoing harmonisation of ADRs with design regulations in source markets. This is increasingly important, with the prospect of highly sophisticated autonomous cars looming on the horizon over the next few years.

"It is encouraging that vehicle safety and consumer protections have been at the forefront of considerations in the renewal of this legislation," said James Goodwin, ANCAP Chief Executive.

"We are seeing enormous changes in the automotive industry, so it is important our regulatory measures reflect the vehicles coming off the production line today and in the future.

"The regulatory provisions within the new legislation will also assist with the early introduction of new, safer vehicle technologies.

"The online Register of Approved Vehicles, effectively replacing the need for Identification Plates, will improve the transparency and enforceability of the process for the supply of new and used vehicles.

"We also welcome the improved clarity provided for the recall and rectification of defective vehicles, which will improve the safety of road users throughout the life of the vehicle.

"ANCAP looks forward to the implementation of the new Road Vehicle Standards Act for the benefit and safety of the Australian community," Goodwin remarked in a press release.

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