Stink bug crisis delays thousands of new cars

A big stink has been kicked up in what is becoming an annual problem for car-makers and buyers alike.

A stinky situation has led to major delays in deliveries for new car brands covering Kia through to Mercedes-Benz.

The pesky annual problem is brown marmorated stink bugs, which are a potential threat to Australia's bio-security if an infestation is spread through cars or the giant boats that carry them down under.

No-one is certain of the exact number of vehicles involved, but it is likely in the tens of thousands. There have been considerable delays for some brands shipping cars from Europe as Australian quarantine enforces a strict fumigation and treatment process.

“It’s a substantial problem,” the chief executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, Tony Weber, confirms to carsales.

“Stink bugs are found in the USA, found in Europe, and in parts of Asia too. The stink bug can get on a boat and cause great problems.

“There are a lot of brands involved. It’s where the brands manufacture, not just where their head office is. And there can be issues of contamination … through trans-shipment.”

VW impacted

Volkswagen has been affected since last June and now has delays on 1800 cars which should have arrived in early December but could be held up until February.

“We have three boats that have been turned around; not because of us, because the boats have picked up cargo from somewhere else,” the managing director of Volkswagen Group Australia, Michael Bartsch, tells carsales.

“The galling and frustrating part is that it’s not us, our cars are clean. It has come from somewhere else, they don’t know where. They found it on the boat and they have to fix it – there’s no argument on that.

“These boats are being turned around and sent back, they’re not even allowed in Australian territorial waters.”

“They are harsh little critters,” says David McCarthy, spokesman for Mercedes-Benz. “The industry is working overtime to remedy this but the size and logistics of the problem mitigate against a quick-fix solution.”

“Our cargo has been affected since 2015 with vehicles and parts from the USA caught up in the stink bug requirements,” says Karla Leach, spokesperson for Nissan Australia.

According to the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, the brown marmorated stink bug - with the scientific name of Halyomorpha halys - is an “exotic pest that could cause major damage to agricultural crops, nursery stock and ornamental plants”.

It is described as a “high priority pest” and the department devotes extra resources at ports during the stink bug season from September and April. Eight countries in Europe and the USA are regarded as “high risk” during the current season.

North West Europe affected

According to Tony Weber, the problem is well known and being combated by the motor industry, including both chemical fumigation and heat treatments.

“This issue has been ongoing. Three years ago it occurred in the US and we worked with the authorities and put in solutions. We share the government's concerns about bio security and want to be a good corporate citizen,” he says.

“In 2017 it was an issue in Italy. But, as 2018 moved on, the movement of stink bugs was north-west through Europe and more countries became involved.

“We've been very keen to work with the government to ensure there are appropriate mechanisms to ensure cars can be brought into this country. The treatment of the ships, either chemical or heat based, is done offshore. If there is any contamination you don’t want to bring them onshore.

“We need early warning from the government. That’s the key point.”

For Volkswagen, the problem is ongoing.

“First of all, we had the initial delay, which was June and July. We’ve just had the last shipments come out which fell within the timeframe and we have three ships which have turned up and have this bug on them. Quite rightly, they’re not allowed to land,” says Bartsch.

The situation is similar for Nissan.

“We, along with others, have vehicles that were due to arrive in Australia at the beginning of December. The current ETA for these vehicles is the end of January,” says Leach.

“This continues with a number of vessels after this one, still without firm ETAs. These large delays are due to the fact that vessels have been found to be carrying stink bugs, both alive and dead, and are being directed for either additional treatment or are being refused entry into New Zealand and/or Australia. There have now been a number of vessels refused entry and the vessel operators are employing a variety of measures to overcome this problem."

Peugeot Citroen Australia reports minimal problems for its cars.

“The flow-on effects to customers will be limited as our existing model range largely unimpacted. For those customers that are impacted, we will stay in close contact with them to provide updates on arrival times or work with them, to provide an alternative solution where possible,” says a PSA spokesman.

Jaguar Land Rover Australia has experienced delays of customer-ordered vehicles.

Even Kia admits it has been affected, but only through one ship at the end of last year.

“There is no ongoing problem for Kia. Korea is not a recognized country of concern for the bugs. The issue is third-party contamination from ports of call between Korea and Australia,” says Kia spokesman, Kevin Hepworth.

Issue to worsen?

According to Nissan, there is no solution to the problem, and it is likely to become worse.

“The issue of importing clean product has always involved significant amounts of work both here and overseas. There is always additional costs involved in ensuring that all products comply with the requirements of the department.

“It is anticipated that the number of countries identified as Target Risk Countries in Europe will be increased for the next BMSB (stink bug) season. This will place additional strain on resources here and overseas. It is unknown if other countries outside of Europe will also be added to the list,” says Leach.