TEHRAN – Iranian police have stopped issuing number plates for U.S.-made cars, including Japanese and German brands, to the consternation of their importers and those who have purchased them.
“All American-made and U.S.-brand vehicles, including Honda and Toyota, are banned from receiving number plate services by the police,” police spokesman Saeed Montazerolmahdi said recently.
“The General Board of Police made this decision in July and U.S.-made cars are not able to receive number plates even if imported officially and legally via Iranian customhouse,” he said.
In Iran, driving a car without number plates is a criminal offense punishable by up to a year in jail.
In October last year, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose orders are final, instructed President Hassan Rouhani to stop importing U.S. products, especially consumer goods, to help Iran consolidate its “resistance economy,” despite the West’s lifting of crippling sanctions under a landmark nuclear deal signed earlier that year.
Within weeks, the Ministry of Industry and Trade had prepared a list of 119 items imported from the United States from 2014 to 2015, with a total value of $37 million, and banned most of them.
But in a public speech in April, Khamenei criticized the exception for automobiles, saying, “Ministers and officials should seriously stop it,” which prompted chants of “Death to America!”
Iran subsequently canceled the import of 200 Chevrolet cars made in South Korea that were waiting in Dubai to be transferred to Iran, while U.S.-made Japanese and German cars are subject to similar treatment.
Farhad Ehtesham Zadeh, executive director of the Iranian Car Importers Union, criticized the ban’s application to the use of already imported U.S.-made, foreign-branded cars, saying it has no legal basis and is based merely on an interpretation of Khamenei’s orders.
“U.S.-made Japanese cars are imported officially and legally via country’s customhouse and based on the government’s decision. There is no excuse for police to prevent number plating these cars,” he said.
According to Zadeh, around 500 U.S.-made Japanese and German cars with a total value of $12 million have been bought by Iranian customers in recent months and are awaiting number plates from police.
“They have paid for cars but can’t use them,” he said.
Mehrdad, a 43-year-old businessman and a buyer of two U.S.-made Japanese cars, said he was “shocked and depressed” at the news.
“In September, I paid $72,000 for a Honda C-VR for myself and $41,000 for a Toyota Prius as a birthday gift for my wife, and after paying all expenses and governmental tax, we were told by police that our cars are unable to get number plates because they’re U.S-made.”
“I haven’t bought an American brand and it’s unacceptable for me to have problem with Japanese cars,” he said, adding that dealers are reluctant to refund his money and instead suggest he “wait until a solution can be found.”
Mehran Ayazi, a Tehran-based economist, said the ban on U.S. products “should be clarified by the parliament,” namely whether it also applies non-U.S. brands.
According to the Tokyo-based Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, 3,847,517 Japanese-brand cars were manufactured in the United States last year. But officials of the association could not confirm how many were exported to Iran.
Both Honda Motor. Co. and Toyota Motor Corp., in response to queries, said they do not have direct sales to Iran. “It is beyond the reach of our responsibility,” Honda’s press department said.
The Japanese government lifted its sanctions on Iran in January and signed a bilateral investment pact the following month to help Japanese companies do business in the country amid intensifying foreign competition for access to its market.