Some 15,000 cars are held up at customs in Iran for regulatory reasons, according to a local media report.

According to the local English business paper, Financial Tribune, a source inside the Islamic Republic of Iran Customs Administration leaked information indicating that 15,000 cars are stuck at customs because of a disagreement between a state organisation and importers over a regulation.

The anonymous source, who spoke to the government newspaper Iran, said the majority of the imported vehicles were produced by Renault – 6,000 units.

It was also reported importing companies have not been able to release 4,000 Hyundai and 1,000 Volkswagen vehicles.

At an average price around US$40,000, the total value of vehicles stuck in customs is around $600m, the report said.

Mohammad Mortezaie, head of marketing and retail development at Negin Khodro, Renault’s official importer, said the problem was the Trade Promotion Organisation of Iran (TPO) had stopped issuing online auto import permits.

By law, after obtaining required documents from the Ministry of Industries, Mining, and Trade for each model, local importing companies are also required to make an online registration with the TPO for every single unit.

The online service known as Sabtaresh has been down for more than two months. Initially, the organisation said it was due to ‘technical problems’ with the website. However, later, TPO chief Mojtaba Khosrotaj said the measure was planned to help reduce the trade deficit.

Khosrotaj said: “The online application system will not be up and running until the government issues new guidelines for auto imports.”

New industries minister Mohammad Shariatmadari took office a month ago but there had been no report about when the new guidelines would be announced.

However, a draft of the document has been published on the official government website and says a new clause will be added to auto import regulations that stipulate car importers must also invest in local car manufacturing.

According to the clause, “Auto importers have two options: starting local production or partnering with Iranian car manufacturers. The total value of cars imported by the companies will not exceed the value of the importers’ domestic production by more than half.”

Following the dispute the Iran Auto Importers Association filed a complaint against the TPO’s Khosrotaj.

Deploring the move as “disruptive”, Farhad Ehteshamzad, the association’s director told Financial Tribune: “An official complaint against Khosrotaj has been launched with the judiciary.”

According to Ehteshamzad, the TPO’s haphazard decision, in addition to imposing financial losses on auto importers, has also tarnished their public image.

“The association will not drop the case against Khosrotaj,” he stressed.

While Khosrotaj says that the new permits cannot be issued before ratification of the new guideline, Ehteshamzad disagreed.

“Law stipulates that the Ministry of Industries and TPO are obliged to issue permits to anyone who meets the existing legal requirements.

“Shutting down the online registration system has no legal justification. If the ministry wants to change the guidelines it must follow legal protocols.”

According to the rules, before the introduction of any new directive the government can not, and should not, change or suspend existing procedures.

Apart from the new added clause, the guideline is line with previous editions, requiring importers to offer at least the bare minimum of after sales services and have a representation deal with the foreign carmaker or one of its official distributors.

The rules further require auto importers to scrap two to eight year old cars for each imported unit. According to the ruling, “issuance of registration plates” will require scrapping a number of old cars based on the replacement imported cars’ fuel consumption rate.

Companies now are obliged to send between two and eight old vehicles to the scrap yard if they import cars and pickups with a fuel consumption of more than five litres/100km, the report said.