The investigation into the prevalence of illegally-converted ambulances in South Africa is progressing, with the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (NAAMSA) stating it will not tolerate any of its members engaging in this sort of activity.
NAAMSA was speaking to Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport regarding the progress made in cracking down on the illegal conversion of panel vans into ambulances and taxis.
Illegally-converted panel vans (most commonly Toyota vehicles) that are sold as taxis and ambulances have been described as “deathtraps” and “coffins on wheels” due to their relatively flimsy construction.
The scale of these illegal conversions was first revealed in a Public Protector’s Report published in 2019, with a great deal of the evidence being supplied by former banker and whistleblower Hennie De Beer.
Evidence in the Public Protector’s report showed that Toyota South Africa become aware that it was selling panel vans to taxi dealers to be illegally converted in 2005.
It told its dealers that the process was illegal and the converted taxi designs were not homologated, making them potentially unsafe.
Despite this, Toyota SA continued to sell panel vans to buyers who converted them to passenger-carrying vehicles.
NAAMSA speaks out
NAAMSA said that it has worked with its members, which include Toyota and other major vehicle manufacturers in South Africa, to ensure they understand the remedial action advised in the Public Protector’s Report.
“We’ve shared the public protector’s report with all of our brands, not just Toyota,” NAAMSA told Parliament.
“They have all had an opportunity to look at the report and understand what their obligations are with regards to the remedial actions set out by the public protector.”
NAAMSA assured parliament that its members do not sell illegally converted vehicles and it is unaware of any of its members’ manufacturers, importers, and builders doing illegal conversions.
However, it also stressed the importance of clamping down on any illegal conversions, as parties that engage in this are not paying the correct tax nor following the law.
As a consequence of the Public Protector’s Report into illegal panel van conversions, as well as the numerous reports of horrific accidents involving illegally-converted ambulances and taxis, the Western Cape has stopped issuing permits for all vehicle conversions.
NAAMSA said this was an issue, as some of its members that were not implicated in the illegal conversion of panel vans were also suffering.
“As a consequence of the decisions taken by the public protector, there are unintended consequences we are beginning to see in the market,” NAAMSA said.
“For example, in the Western Cape, the provincial department of transport has decided not to issue permits for all the conversions of all vehicles in that province, irrespective of which brands.”
“This means new taxis that have been legally converted are not able to register in the Western Cape,” it added.
It said that companies it represents, including Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, and BMW, were not given an opportunity to present their case to the public protector, and argued that they should have an opportunity to do so.
“We believe they should have an opportunity to present their case and show they are not illegally converting panel vans,” NAAMSA said.
For more about the dangers of illegally-converted panel vans and the prevalence of this practice, read MyBroadband’s 2020 investigation into the matter.