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IK's Grey Import FAQ

From OCAU Wiki

1. What's a grey import?

Generally, it's an item imported through a grey area in a country's import laws.

In Australia, as far as it applies to motor vehicles, grey imports are used vehicles bought (usually wholesale) in another country (almost exclusively Japan), then imported in limited numbers and complianced by the importer to be eligible for Australian registration.

Unlike official imports, those imported with the approval and involvement of the manufacturer, grey imports receive no official support through the manufacturer's dealer network.

2. What about a parallel import?

While a grey import is a used vehicle imported from another country, a parallel import is, typically, brand-new, and imported without direct involvement of the manufacturer by someone other than the manufacturer's representative in the country.

Another definition differentiates between grey imports and parallel imports by classifying parallel imports as being of a make and model already available from the manufacturer in the import market, while grey imports are models which are not available from the manufacturer. Eg. a Toyota Soarer is a grey import, but a Celica would be a parallel import.

This is academic, as Australian legislation explicitly forbids third parties from importing brand-new vehicles into the country. The only way to do it is to form a relationship with the manufacturer, and legislation further forbids a foreign manufacturer to be represented by multiple importers. Thus, the only place to buy a brand new Kawasaki in Australia is from a Kawasaki dealer, who, in turn, can only get stock from Kawasaki Motors Australia in Rydalmere, NSW, Kawasaki's sole official importer in Australia. The only place to buy a Ducati is a Ducati dealer, who can only get stock from Neil Fraser Imports (NFI), Ducati's official importer, and so on.

In the UK, for example, on the other hand, parallel imports are a major feature of the new vehicle market. Companies not directly affiliated with the manufacturer buy consignments of new (that is, never-registered) vehicles either from the manufacturer, or whoever might happen to have some, anywhere in the world; this could be an importer, a wholesaler, a dealer, even an auction house where, say, a bankrupt dealer's unregistered stock wound up after liquidation. Canada and Germany are two common sources for parallel imports in Britain. Winter snows come, bike sales nosedive, leaving the importers and dealers in those countries holding lots of unregistered bikes. Along comes a british parallel importer, makes them an offer, and it goes from there...

3. What's this got to do with n00b bikes?

A very large portion of the 250cc n00b-bike market, quite possibly a majority of it, is made up of grey imports. It is important for n00bs to be aware of this and of its implications.

4. Which n00b bikes are, then, likely to be grey imports?

Honestly; throw a rock.

The most prominent are the four-cylinder 250cc sportsbikes; the CBR250R and CBR250RR, Yamaha FZR250, Kawasaki ZXR250 and, coming onstream now, albeit, thankfully, slowly, on the back of everyone being gaga over the GSX-R1000, the Suzuki GSX-R250.

The Honda VT250 Spada was an official import, but didn't sell well, so the majority of Spadas out there are greys.

The Suzuki 250 Bandit, Kawasaki Balius and Yamaha Zeal were also available officialy, and haven't been as successful as greys as the Spada has been, so the split between grey and official bikes is more even.

The GPX250 and ZZ-R250 have been solid sellers for Kawasaki's Aussie arm since their release in 1988 and 1990, respectively, but there are still some grey examples floating around, particularly of the GPX250, which came with twin front discs and a different ignition module for the Japanese market.

5. Where do grey imports come from and how do they get here?

In a word, Japan.

In Japan, as vehicles age, they become progressively more expensive to re-register. As a result of this, enormous numbers of otherwise perfectly serviceable cars, vans and bikes end up in warehouses and open-air holding yards, victims of a masively oversupplied used-vehicle market.

250cc (and 400cc, incidentally) sportsbikes were further made irrelevant by changes in Japanese motorcycle licensing and registration laws which came through in the mid 1990's and made it easier for people to own and ride bigger bikes. To a large extent, bikes like the CBR250, ZXR250 and FZR250 were created for the large numbers of Japanese riders who wanted something flash, but were unable or unwilling to go through the onerous process required to be able to own a CBR600, a ZXR750 or an FZR1000. When the laws changed, demand for 250 sportsbikes vanished overnight. The factories ceased producting them, and piles of them wound up in holding yards.

These holding yards now serve as strip-mines for grey import 250's and 400's which feed the Australian n00b market... in a fine symmetry with the Hunter Valley and FNQ coal we export to Japan.

Local purchasing agents representing Australian grey importers in Japan buy these discarded bikes in large lots of 50 and upwards, cram them into shipping containers or, more innovatively, gutted buses and send them off to Australia.

Once they arrive here, the bikes are fitted with an Australian compliance plate and tarted up for sale.

6. How old are grey 250's, then?

For the most part, very.

The ZXR250, CBR250RR, FZR250 and GSX-R250 all ceased production in or around 1994, when the regulations in Japan changed (see answer to Q.5). At the time of writing (February, 2006), no four-cylinder sports 250 can be less than 11 or 12 years old. Some Honda CBR250R's and early FZR250's are closer to 20 years old; they entered production in 1988 and 1987, respectively.

The Honda VT250 Spada was discontinued in 1991.

The current batches of grey 250 sportsbikes are composed of bikes with have probably spent close to a decade laid up in a holding yard.

There are two exceptions to the rule:

-Between 1997 and 2001, Honda sold the CBR250RR as an official import. These bikes were drawn from factory stockpiles left over after the collapse of the Japanese 250 market.

-Currently, a grey importer is bringing in newly-built Kawasaki ZXR250-C's assembled at Kawasaki's Malaysian subsidiary from parts stockpiles held by Kawasaki Japan.

7. So, Why are there lots of grey 250's being advertised as 2005 models?

Put simply, it's because bikeshops which specialise in selling grey-import n00b bikes recognise that n00bs know nothing, are easily impressed and are in a hurry to buy. That makes them easy to rip off. Legally, a vehicle in Australia came into existence when it first gained Australian compliance. Thus, it is perfectly legal for a CBR250R which rolled off the Honda production line sometime in 1988 to be advertised as a 2005-model bike.

For reasons explained in the answer to Q.6, chances are the bike is really at least a dozen, and more likely around 15 years old.

8. Why do so many grey 250's in shops have really low odo readings?

Because part of preparing the bike for sale involves winding back the odo.

9. Why do most grey 250's in shops have current-looking colour schemes?

After spending a decade in the open air in a Japanese holding yard, a bike will look pretty secondhand. Even if the bike wasn't already carrying damage when it first arrived at the holding yard, chances are it will have picked some up while there or, more likely, while in transit from Japan to Australia.

For the bike to fetch a good price, it should look pretty (see earlier comment about n00bs being easily impressee), so grey importers respray and resticker the bikes as a matter of course. Depending on who they farm the work out to, the result can range from average to quite fetching.

The condition of a grey 250's fairing is no reflection on the rest of it.

10. What's a grey 250 worth?

Something of that age, offering that level of performance, should be worth no more than a couple of thousand dollars at best. Unfortunately, due to the large numbers of people perfectly prepared to part with almost $8,000 for a fresh-painted 15-year-old 250 with a wound-back odo, this is not the case.

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