The Car Shipping Game

We sat down with Antony Ashley from Cape Town's Freight Factory to talk classic cars and their movements across the globe.

It’s been the subject of many a debate around the braai, and the cause of some serious discomfort for many a local classic car owner hoping to make a quick buck. We’re talking about the export (or import) of cars, of course! Freight Factory was started only 2 years ago but has quickly become the go-to company for owners looking to export or import, offering a seamless door-to-door solution to its clients.

Let’s start with a hot topic - what are your views on the perception that South Africa’s best classics have left, or are leaving our shores?

AA - "Car guys, specifically those that are into vintage or classic cars don’t like to hear that classics are leaving our country and I tend to agree with them. However, that being said, if you think of a person buying a vehicle from another country, nine times out of then he doesn’t see that vehicle himself, so he is reliant on someone to inspect that vehicle. He is also to some degree speculating that that vehicle is going to have greater value in the country he is in, and what I’ve come to believe is that the type of guys that are buying these vehicles to retail on the other side... those traders are in the auto industry and they own a panel shop, a spray booth, a restoration shop...  So, in order for them to get a good deal, they have to buy something that’s not in great condition. So a lot of the stuff that comes through our doors is in dire need of a restoration and the guys that are selling have either lost the passion to do it or don’t have the disposable income for it. 

"You know the world is a small place now - you can buy anything, anywhere, and it’s the same with cars. Look at the case study of Australia and the UK, for example. In the ‘90s the Brits would go into Australia and they would cherry pick the car that they wanted and bring them to the UK, but now the roles are reversed. The Australian Dollar has picked up, and now it’s the Aussies who are going into the UK and buying - particularly the UK, because they have heavy taxes and levies on big-engined cars, so you can go into the UK and pick up a Bentley Arnage Turbo R from the mid-2000s and you’d pay a fraction of the price there. Guys always try to find an angle...  

"So, back to South Africa… It’s so rare that I see something proper, in Concours condition, leaving this country. The collectors here know what they have, are well-travelled and know the values. It’s really the cheaper-end of the market that’s going overseas. And really... some of the things that have rolled into our warehouse, you’d be happy to see them leave!"

How did Freight Factory start and what does it do?

AA - "I’ve been in the shipping industry now for six years. Originally I got into it because I wanted to move cars to Spa and the Nurburgring so that South Africans could go and drive on those racetracks. From doing that and starting to understand the shipping industry I saw that there was a market specifically for vehicle shipping and so I went into the shipping game. 

"Just shy of 2 years ago we started Freight Factory, and it’s going well. We deal with a lot of collectors who want to bring in cool stuff, be it a muscle car from the ‘States, or some Italian exotic from Europe or something British from the UK. Those are sort of the 3 regions we’ve mainly worked on. 

"A lot of the shipping that we do is actually for groups or individuals who are going to do something cool on the other end of the world, often here. So, sometimes what happens is someone from Europe will take their overlander and they’ll drive from the top of Africa all the way down to Cape Town. What’s very cool is we get to see a vehicle that’s very kitted, and which has been weathered. We also get to hear their stories and by that stage most of these guys would have had such a life-altering experience that they have put a blog or something together, so we share their information and then ship their vehicle back to wherever it came from."

So, it’s not only about vehicles that change ownership, then?

AA - "No, not at all. For example, there are quite a few classic car clubs that like to come to Cape Town and do a trip up the Garden Route - maybe something in conjunction with the Simola Hill Climb, for example. For such clients we provide an almost door-to-door service where we take over the whole paperwork situation, we arrange their Carnet des Passages permits, then engage with our regular shipping partners in the UK and we ship the vehicles out here. Upon arrival, we store the vehicles at our facility until the guests arrive and then the tour operator takes over. 

"Our facility is in Capricorn Business Park specifically because it’s a secure business park with access control and it’s out of sight to the general public. The less people who know about the items we’re moving for our discerning clients, the better for our clients, and so we guard their privacy. At the same time it’s a nice place where you can come hang out and find out how to ship things, or come and collect your car and have a cup of coffee while you wait, so it’s more than just a warehouse.

"We do have another business called Cape Route Rally as well, so we can work with these visiting groups as a local information source. Cape Route Rally can, for example, provide the group with an itinerary that would actually work, and then we have a tourism partner that assists with flights, accommodation and so on. The tour operator is able to still sell his tour as let’s say the Porsche Club UK’s tour to Cape Town. We just come in on the ground level and give support, with trailers, mechanics, moving items, including cars... so that’s quite an exciting part of Freight Factory, getting involved with these cool trips." 

How complicated is it to export or import a car?

AA - "Firstly, we know that there is a stigma attached to shippers that are sending out stuff, which is why we work so hard on our imports. Imports will, however, never match the exports because of the dynamics of South Africa, but I’m proud to say that we’ve managed to bring in a lot of cool stuff for guys that are bringing cars in on a permanent basis. There are some rule changes coming up with regards to left-hand drive and we hope those are going to be passed towards the end of the year. That will free up what you can bring in, in terms of left-hand drive vehicles, which will be good for most of the collectors.

"Currently there is a year-based restriction. You can get an exemption for a pre-1965 left-hand drive vehicle, but it’s easier said than done. What we’re trying to do is to take the pain out of it for clients.

"When a customer finds a car on the other side of the world, whether it’s left- or right-hand drive, it needs to be deemed to be internationally collectible. We need to get it passed with ITAC (a government body that grants import/export permits), and ITAC will only issue a permit if it is deemed to be internationally collectible. Because we have a lot of stuff coming and going, we have a good relationship with ITAC, so we can get answers back pretty quickly.

"The second hurdle is NCRS - they give you a letter called the LOA (Letter of Authority). This is the document that allows you to register a vehicle on a CA plate or whatever so you can drive it on our roads legally. Sometimes what happens is someone is bringing in a car for their museum and it is a left-hand drive and the only time this car is going to be seen outside of the museum, is at a car show. In those cases the collector is not intending to drive the car on the roads, so we can assist him in bringing it in, and sometimes can get an exemption to drive that vehicle from their house to the car show or to the museum. That’s one way to bring in a car.

"What we do a lot of are these temporary import permits. Generally what we use is the Carnet des Passages, which is recognised in most countries around the world. So, let’s say you are a “swallow” from the UK with a house in Camps Bay and you want to bring in your Porsche 911 Cabriolet for 4 to 6 months before sending it back… we have assisted many such customers.

Tell us about the recent rule changes regarding Carnet des Passages for South Africans.

AA - "According to the new rules the car can’t be in the name of a South African, it has to be in the name of a foreigner, who then has to apply for the Carnet des Passages, and give permission to a South African to drive it here." 

Do you only do motor vehicles?

AA - "Not at all. We are very much a niche shipper in that many shippers don’t want to handle vehicles because it’s so complicated. People tend to come to us for that reason because that’s what we specialise in. But what people don’t know is that we also deal with personal effects. A vehicle falls under personal effects. When you are declaring it to customs in a shipment it is a personal effect. So if you want to emigrate to Australia, you would first and foremost come to us because we can pack up your bike, your boat, your jetski, your classic, your two modern cars, and invariably some household goods. 

"We would assist you from start to finish, door-to-door, in packing up your house, sorting out all the paperwork on all the goods, the inventories, then dealing with the loading process. The latter is a very important aspect. Shippers tend to only see cargo. So when they look at a car they go, OK, that’s 7 or 8 cubic metres, and we can charge for that space. With us it is very different, especially because we are often dealing with something that’s collectible.

"We like to ship in containers, because the entire process is then under our watchful gaze and with our staff, whereas a lot of time people enquire about so-called “RoRo” shipping (Roll-on, Roll-off), which happens out of Port Elizabeth and Durban. The problem with that is that if it is a collectible vehicle and it’s got some very specific hubcap, for example, it might not have it anymore when it arrives on the other side, and this is a world-wide phenomenon. Manufacturers tend to use RoRo shipping with new vehicles, but then you’ve seen how they wrap them. With older vehicles, just a badge, or a steering wheel, or a gearknob, can really become quite a problem to find if it gets nicked. So that’s why we advise shipping in containers. That said, we do offer RoRo shipping for larger vehicles like trucks. Or we do Flat-Rack shipping. If it’s too big for that, it would go on a break bulk cargo ship. 

"We’ve also assisted clients in air-freighting cars to South Africa. Airfreight is for the guys that need to move something quickly. It’s far more expensive than container shipping, and there are also more people involved in the handling process. In my opinion it’s more risky, but it’s a service we offer to customers who need it.

"We do a lot of bikes. Guys with bikes are very keen to do these trips around Europe. And people who emigrate often take their bikes because they are smaller and cost less. What’s interesting to know is that when it comes to importing bikes, it’s much easier to do than cars. 

"With cars you need that ITAC permit, you cannot sell it for 2 years, you can only bring it in if it’s collectible, and so on. The reason for all of that is that government is trying to protect the local car manufacturing industry but with bikes it’s all imported anyway, so ITAC doesn’t place as much restriction on bikes. For that reason if you wanted to import a special motorbike, you could bring it in quite easily.

"We also help guys with parts. There are collectors in South Africa with old cars, and they maybe need to buy an engine or gearbox and because we have trade coming in or going out it’s easy enough for us to help those customers by bringing in those parts on a pallet."

What would be your advice to someone who is looking to sell a car to an overseas buyer?

AA - "The paperwork is key. It’s not just the papers on the car, it’s the entire process of paperwork, and there are so many steps in the process. There’s a reason why we have estate agents selling houses... 

"In the shipping world there is so much paperwork that goes into it, it is a lot to deal with it. Our logistics and admin staff are all experienced in handling the paperwork, and it’s not only key on the South African side, but also where it’s going, and if you haven’t dealt with the whole process before, the worry is that a normal generic shipper will send something out without the correct paperwork and procedures in place and it gets denied at the destination country. And then the process becomes very painful, and costly." 

And what about bringing a car in?

AA - "Talk to us before you pull the trigger. The vehicle you are looking to buy could possibly not be allowed to come into the country. We’ve done a number of import permits, and vehicles have been accepted or denied. When it’s denied, a lot of people don’t know that you can challenge that ruling, but there’s a lot of paperwork that needs to be presented and it needs to go to an external body outside of ITAC, where they will judge whether this vehicle is internationally collectible, so the last thing you want is to purchase something you can’t actually bring in, or even if you can bring it in, you can’t use it on the road.

A lot of people don’t even know that they need an ITAC import permit, and that you need an LOA and so we often get a phone call from someone with something on the water and who wants to consign the cargo to us. While we’re happy to unpack the cargo the reality is that if you don’t have that paperwork in place, it is going to be stopped by customs at the port and the costs can run into the hundreds of thousands of Rands very quickly."

Let’s say I drive in here with a car I have sold to someone in the UK, as an example, how long does it take before the car is in the hands of its new owner?

AA - "It tends to vary, for many reasons, like load-shedding, and traffic departments being offline, for example… which adds days to our process. We generally do the paperwork in the first week, the clearances with the police department, and the export permits that we need done in the second week, and by the third week we are ready to load. Then, if we are going to the UK, the sailing time varies from 15 to 20 days. On the unpack side, you should look at 5 to 7 days before you can collect the vehicle. Sailing periods to Australia and New Zealand and the USA are longer. Ocean freight is not exactly lightning quick."

Why is shipping with a reputable company such as Freight Factory so important?

AA - "So what’s quite interesting is that even though we are seen to be a shipper in the freight industry, which typically is a very boring industry, because people see logistics, we are more than just a freight forwarder. We are a shipper in the sense that we are not only handling the paperwork, we are also skilled in handling the vehicles. That’s an important distinction to make, particularly when dealing with high-value collectibles.

"The shipping industry has, when it comes to vehicle shipping, a dark perception to it. Just think about Hollywood films… there’s always a shady deal happening at a dock with a car. That perception has been carried through and it’s hard to shake. We do our utmost to protect our customers. Every vehicle that comes through has a full inspection against a check sheet. If there are any goods that need to be shipped with that vehicle we take it out and repack it. So we do our best to see what’s in a car and to ensure that the paperwork accurately reflects what’s loaded. And maybe that’s a reason to choose a reputable company. Because if you don’t, you may well end up in trouble when your car arrives on the other side with things in it that shouldn’t be there."

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1 comment

  • Hi im looking for a shipping company to assist me in bringing in sets of wheels and also exporting old school accessories like window louvre’s ,would you be able to help??

    Marius Coetzee

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