PARALLEL-IMPORTED cars are attracting lower taxes than equivalent models brought in by authorised agents, with the difference sometimes being more than $10,000 per car.
Parallel imports now have much lower open market values (OMVs) - the approximate cost prices on which tax and duty of 130 per cent apply.
The Straits Times understands that Singapore Customs, which assesses OMVs, may review the way those of parallel imports are assessed.
It had previously said that OMVs "can be different for different importers because of the difference in quantity purchased, difference in bargaining power, and other circumstances".
This 'OMV anomaly' for equivalent car models can mean a difference of more than $10,000 in taxes, according to checks by The Straits Times.
Many car buyers now choose parallel imports because they are cheaper, and this has upset the authorised agents.
Currently, the gap in price between a parallel import and an equivalent model from an authorised agent can range from $1,000 for a small hatchback to $15,000 for a big seven-seater.
Authorised agents get cars directly from the manufacturers while parallel importers get theirs through one or more middlemen.
Checks showed that a Toyota Corolla Altis imported by authorised Toyota agent Borneo Motors has an average OMV of $15,200, while a parallel-imported Corolla Axio's OMV is around $12,500.
This is despite the fact that the Altis is made in lower-cost Thailand while the Axio, a newer model, is made in Japan.
The story is the same for other models.
A parallel-imported Toyota Estima 2.4's OMV is $28,200 while the authorised agent's Previa 2.4 has an OMV of $37,600.
A parallel-imported Honda Fit's OMV is $11,800 versus $14,000 for a Jazz sold by Honda distributor Kah Motor.
Kah Motor's Stream has an OMV of around $19,500, but a parallel-imported Stream's OMV is $17,800.
The Stream is a compact seven-seater similar to the highly popular Toyota Wish, a seven-seater sold only by parallel importers which currently has an OMV of $17,600.
Kah Motor product manager Vincent Ng said: "How can the OMV of the Wish be so low, when its list price in Japan is 1.8 million yen (S$22,300)"
The Automotive Importers and Exporters Association, a body for parallel importers, declined to comment.
However, Singapore Customs has raided several parallel importers recently and is understood to be close to prosecuting a big player for under-declaring values.
Mr Michael Wong, the newly elected president of the Motor Traders Association (MTA), whose members are authorised agents, when commenting on a possible review of OMV assessment, suggested that Customs "might use the rates of authorised dealers as a guideline".
Singapore Customs was not available to confirm this.
Its spokesman said the department would usually accept values declared by importers "to allow for speedier clearance". It will then conduct random audits on tip-offs - sometimes years later.
If an importer is found to have declared values wrongly, it is usually fined and made to pay taxes and duties based on the revised OMVs.
The OMV anomaly - which seems to have grown over the years - has allowed parallel importers to price their cars more competitively and helped expand their presence.
Their market share grew from 5.8 per cent in 2005 to 14 per cent last year. In the first four months of this year, it shot up to 20.2 per cent.
Mr Wong of the MTA said the association will meet next week "to discuss how we can address the parallel import issue as a trade body".
He said it will be the first time the body is convening a meeting solely for this purpose.