Anyone buying a car in Malta at the moment can expect to wait anywhere between one and three weeks before they can drive it, due to ongoing delays at Transport Malta.
Both car buyers and autodealers have complained that it is taking the authority far too long to issue licence plates.
Those needing a car immediately have been forced to rely on others for lifts or use cab services or public transport, while car sellers are using valuable showroom and garage space to store vehicles that have already been bought but cannot yet be driven out of their premises.
BusinessNow.mt spoke to four autodealers and a number of customers, all of whom confirmed that the issue is an ongoing one.
One floor manager of a showroom selling cars imported from Japan said: “The issue affects us a lot,” suggesting that Transport Malta is suffering from a shortage of staff to handle requests.
“Before, no matter how many requests you put in, you could go back in an hour and they would have everything ready. Now, we have some cars that have been stuck in our garage for three weeks. Of course, customers are frustrated, and call us constantly for updates. But there is nothing we can tell them – we have no control over the issue.”
Customers’ anger, he says, is the real cost, even worse than the waste of space that now needs to be used for storage.
“What can you tell them? People think we’re messing them about when 10, 11 days pass and they still don’t have their licence plates in hand.”
He says the issue initially appeared right after it was revealed that certain used car importers were tampering with their vehicles’ odometres. However, he explains that the time taken to process registration requests had then improved, only to get worse again towards the beginning of this year.
Multiple people spoken to by BusinessNow.mt reported significantly long delays in getting their vehicles registered.
One person needed to wait over three weeks for the licence plates to be issued. “I used my 125cc bike to get from point A to point B during that time, but I still paid close to a month’s insurance for nothing,” he says.
Another person had to wait for two weeks for her car to be issued: “I had an accident with a previous car and it was a total loss,” she explains. “I had to buy another one, but I was unable to use this car I bought for far too long. I have two kids’ busy schedules to keep up with – it wasn’t easy. Thankfully I was able to rely on my husband, but not everyone can do that!”
However, a mechanic working at another seller of cars imported from Japan believes that the issue is not as bad as many are making it out to seem, and has not experienced delays over one week.
“Yes, there are delays, but they are nothing out of this world,” he tells BusinessNow.mt.
“The important thing is to always inform the customer right away. If they are expecting to drive their car the day after purchase, they will be in for a rude surprise – and the seller gets the flak.”
He believes that some autodealers purposely avoid mentioning the delay, using it as an opportunity to one-up their competitors.
“If I tell a client that they cannot have their care before five days have passed, and my competitor tells them they can have it the next day, they might very well opt for the shop that can give them what they want without delay. Thing is, there is a delay – it’s not in our control. But by then, of course, the contract would have been signed and the money locked in.”
Nonetheless, he agreed that the issue seems to be a lack of staff, and said that people are “right to complain”, since the uncertainty and lack of a vehicle, whether for one week or three, can have a significant impact on people’s lives.
Keith Sultana, CEO of Malta Car Trader, agreed that registrations are currently about one week behind, and also mentioned the authority’s lack of staff as a serious issue.
However, he prasied the modernisation efforts undertaken by Transport Malta, and expressed his confidence that the issue would soon resolve itself, and licence plates issues in a timely manner once again.
A representative for one of Malta’s largest vehicle importers added that Transport Malta’s delays go beyond registrations, with electric vehicle grants, for example, being months behind schedule.
All autodealers BusinessNow.mt spoke to said that the issue is costly one for them, as they need to find space to store all these bought but unregistered cars. The result is that they often use their sales space for such storage, with all involved describing this as a “waste of space”.
Meanwhile, their customer care lines are busier than ever.
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