MEXICO CITY — Mexico auto industry officials worry that damaged vehicles from Hurricane Harvey and perhaps Hurricane Irma could find their way south of the border given lax import controls in the past.
Guillermo Rosales, co-director of the Mexican Automobile Distributors Association, said authorities need to be vigilant to avoid a repeat of the imports that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
"We need to have the capacity as a nation to prevent the traps that surely are being set to import these vehicles," Rosales said last week.
"We will be very vigilant in order to avoid the risk of being inundated by inundated vehicles from seasonal hurricanes," he told reporters at an industry event.
Eduardo Solis, president of the Mexican Automotive Industry Association, put imports of damaged vehicles after Hurricane Katrina in the thousands or tens of thousands.
The auto industry has long complained that shady importers allegedly use bribes to go around regulations that prevent the import of damaged or stolen cars from the U.S. The problem has been tough to contain since Mexico unilaterally opened its market to used cars from the U.S. more than a decade ago.
At the time, it was politically popular to have an ample supply of cheap, older autos from north of the border. Over time, however, the measure contributed to a sharp drop in new-car sales since it distorted the used market, pushing down residual values and making it difficult for owners of locally purchased vehicles to trade up to a new car. Industry officials complained that the imported cars weren't being inspected for their roadworthiness or the validity of their titles.
The industry estimates that in 2006 about 1.6 million older used cars were imported from the U.S., surpassing the total of new cars sold in Mexico that year.
Thanks to pressure on a new federal administration that took power in 2012 and years of court fights, the number of imported used cars has fallen steadily since 2014 and numbered about 150,000 last year.
As a key manufacturing center now, Mexico could actually benefit from demand for replacement vehicles for cars and light trucks destroyed as a result of Hurricane Harvey, Solis said.