MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico has long had a problem with illegally imported cars, and on Wednesday President Andrés Manuel López Obrador pledged to legalize them all.
The cars, mainly from the U.S., are known in Mexico as “chocolate,” a play on the word “chueco,” or crooked.
Mexicans can legally import cars, but only later-model cars that meet pollution and safety standards. They must also pay import duties, leading many to simply bring in U.S. junkers on the sly.
López Obrador said many poor families need the cars to get to work, but auto manufacturers and dealers say the measure will fill Mexico with junk cars precisely at a time when the auto market is suffering.
“We are going to legalize all of them, we are going to give them a permit, we are going to recognize them as owners of the vehicle,” López Obrador said. “Because there are a lot of people who use these cars because they don't have the money to buy a new car, and with these cars they take their children to school and carry out their activities.”
He said the owners would have to pay a fee; the program is scheduled to start soon in the northern border states, where the cars are more common, and later extend to other states.
The Mexican Employers Federation, a business group, said the measure would fill Mexico with unsafe, dirty cars, and noted that it comes at a bad time for the domestic auto industry. New car sales in the first five months of 2021 were 19.8% below the same period of 2019.
“This implies legalizing contraband and fomenting unfair competition with an industry that is strategic for Mexico and has been seriously affected by the pandemic,” the group said.
Because they are largely unregistered, it is hard to say how many “chocolate” cars have been imported into Mexico; some estimates place the number as high as 18 million cars and pickups, or about one-quarter of all such vehicles in Mexico.