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Monday, May 28 2018 @ 01:28 AM EDT

Great Discussion on New Car Sales in Panama

Cars & Transportation

By DON WINNER for - Recently there's been a good conversation about purchasing a new car on the Americans in Panama Yahoo! email group: "I am currently in the States, and 'negotiating' for a new car purchase in Panama via the internet. As always, this is an extremely frustrating process, dealing with the monopolistic importers/dealers, as there really isn't true competition. Since Panama is a dollar economy, dependent on fluctuations in U.S. currency, and tied closely to the U.S.economy, one would think that new car sales are down over last year just as here. I know from talking with other expats that the used car business is really hurting in PC, but I am not able to find any information on the new car market there. Does anyone have any good, current information about the new car market in Panama? Your offline responses are greatly appreciated. Thank you." (more)

Responses and Discussion:

  • "Last week, in a doctor's waiting room, I read a print magazine article about new car sales in Panama; it was a tie-in with the Panama International Auto Show, held October 12-16. Sorry, I can't remember the name of the journal, nor can I find it online. But I do remember that the article showed a healthy increase in new car sales in Panama over the past year; about 30%, as I recall. Toyota was #1 in total unit sales, followed by Nissan, then Kia. As far as negotiating: All you can do is choose two or three favorite cars of different brands, then play the dealers off one another. But if you've got your heart set on a particular brand/model, as you say, you're at their mercy. Bruce (in Panama City) PS: This isn't the same article I was referring to, but it has stats nonetheless:"

  • "This won't help anyone needing to purchase a car right now, but is good information for future reference: car dealers in throughout the country (are there others besides in David and PC?) give their best deals each year during the week of the car show in Panama City. Our lawyer clued us in on this and our timing was good to take advantage of this a couple of years ago. Connie"

  • "I recently spoke to a car salesman from one of the major groups here. Car sales are down for them. There really is not much competition in any area of sales in Panama. I was a avid shopper in the States and always able to find great deals on merchandise if I were willing to get out and do the comparison shopping. There is very little in the way of "marked down for a sale" merchandise here. If it is marked down, something is probably wrong with it. On the other hand, in the past, I have found cars, in general, to be much cheaper here than in the States. There are 2 big reasons. Panama is not protecting Detroit. And, Panama is not into emission controls. Add those two issues to a penionado visa discount, and there is your bargain. Honey"

  • "Lets tell the truth here! New cars in Panama cost more than the USA! The same models here do not have safety or other stuff that is standard or optional on US Models! Options are few and in between! You buy what on the dealer floor or wait and hope the one you want or ordered arrives! There is no Pensionado discount per se! You can have the import duty tax waived! It has to be paid when you sell it here! Ronaldo."

  • "Okay, I bought a new Nissan XTrail for $20,400 in Jan 2007. Standard shift, 4x4, diesel, 6 forward gears, A/C, 2 cup coolers, 2 can coolers, radio/cd player, air bags. Leather seats would have been about $1000 extra-- didn't go for them. Since we usually keep our cars until they die 10-20 years or so later, I am not worried about repaying the duty taxes. The XTrail is not available in the States. In fact, the only diesel cars in the States are Volvo, Mercedes, and VW. Almost every maker sells diesel versions here. And diesel fuel is usually 50 cents per gallon less than gasoline. Although, that is not the case at this moment. Honey."

  • "On the other hand you cannot compare a car you bought here to one you can't buy in the states. New cars sold in Panama simply don't have safety equipment required for them to enter the US. Things like no safety glass, no reinforcement bars within the chassis, and of course no pollution equipment. Buy a month's worth of La Critica or El Siglo and look at the photos of the bloodied (and departed) people on the pagina ultima. I know for a fact that US built cars shipped to Panama by members of the US military and sold when they left commanded exorbitant prices they could never get in the states. Sure, it was a great deal if you bought a $3500 Nissan Sunny from Smoot y Paredes and managed to get thru a tour without getting crashed into. You could recoup most of your investment by reselling it. If you lived that long. Scoob."

  • "I bought the exact same 2007 Nissan XTrail for the same price. That price includes about $2300 exempted (deferred) duty. Like Honey, I'll keep this car until it dies so the duty will never be paid. My experience is that you may save $100 or so if you buy during the Feria or car show promotions. Other than that you can only ask for some free extras. Usually the Panamanian dealers offer to throw in window darkening as a free added bonus. Don't go for it!!!! The windows will be so dark it makes driving at night very dangerous. I negotiated for a free roof rack--worth a couple of hundred. Penny."

  • "My experience tells me the price is the price, no bickering. However, during a fair where the car dealers display cars they will "waive" the sales tax. Gene."

  • "This past Wednesday I went to both the Hyundai and the Nissan dealership to look at the new cars. It was incredible, both places were filled with people buying new cars-filling out the paperwork and talking to the salesmen. I could not get anyone to help me at the Nissan dealership, and just as I was leaving Hyundai, a salesman came to me and gave me his card. I would say the new car market in Panama is alive and thriving! KC"

  • "Window tint: Most offer light, medium, and dark. The dark is indeed dangerous, imho, but light and medium are OK. Another price play: Buy at the time of the model year changeover. E.g., I bought a new 2007 at the time the 2008 models were coming out, and that saved me about 10%. (Not necessarily a good deal if you plan to sell the car in a few years, but a real savings if you plan to keep it awhile.) Bruce."

  • "I beg to differ, slightly. Yes, in the past, vehicles sold in Panama were noted for not having safety equipment and emissions controls. The US market, and I'm guessing the European market, had certain features required of them to be sold within their countries. I would imagine vehicles sold outside those markets are still lacks by our standards. I checked out four dealers about two months ago, Group Sileba (Chevy), Hundya, Toyota (Ricardo Perez) and Nissian (Panamotors) with a thought of possibly getting a new car, which I didn't. That the vehicles that I looked at were cheaper or more expensive than the states depended on the options available and I was looking at the compact to mid-size cars here. Yes, some of those cars I looked at didn't have the safety features nor the emission controls. Others did have them as standard equipment. I was really surprised to see the Toyota Yaris come standard with air bags, safety glass, side impact bars, and emission controls. The Hundya was sold with or without the air bags, to include the side impact air bags, and I can't remember about the other items. Chevy had vehicles made in Korea sold outside the US that didn't come with safety features which surprised me. Then again, these particular vehicles were not made for the US market. And Yes, there are vehicles manufactured outside the US that were never intended to be sold, or imported, into the US. If anyone went to the Auto Fair a couple of weeks ago at the Atlapa Convention Center may have looked into this. Now, as far as emissions controls in Panama, mechaincs are still in the mind set that you don't need them in Panama, even convincing owners to have then removed. They did that to my mom's car. When you ask them how much that affects the vehicle computer in regards to the oxygen sensor in the exhaust system that regulates the fuel injections, they don't care. Well, at least the ones I spoke with. Panama, I believe, is signatory to a list of nations to reduce pollution and one of the reasons they went unleaded. I think that was just one of the conditions. ANAM, every now and again, gets on the anti-pollution kick about vehicles and goes out into the street to inspect vehicles with a probe to determine if the vehicles are within emission specifications. Guess we all know what happens there. Correct on the vehicle accidents in Panama. TV news does show some of that tragedy. Amazing that sometimes there are survivors and all you can think is that is a miracle. On occasions, you will see an air bag deployed. Case in point was a couple of weeks ago where this couple in a small car hit a fixed object and what saved them was the air bags and seat belts. So, Yes, you can get a vehicle here in Panama with standard safety equipment and the other stuff and you will wind up paying a bit more than the plain and simple. Art."

  • "When I bought my Suzuki in January 2008, I could choose from either a 2007 or 2008 model; both were waiting on the docks at Customs. The dealer had maybe 6 of the 2007s, and 30 of the 2008s. Now, in the case of my vehicle, the 2007 and 2008 were identical. The only difference would be resale value: If I were to sell mine now, it would likely be worth a little less than a 2008 with the same mileage. With other cars -- the Nissan X-trail, for example -- there is a big difference between the 2007 and 2008 models. B."

  • Hola Bruce: All the 2009 models are sleeping in Transistmica since 2007. We don´t have any model year changeover in Panamá. Allan."

  • "If you live in Chiriqui and are interested in a Toyota, be sure to ask ONLY for Oscar Hernandez. He speaks good English and is one of the few locals I have found who understands how to spell "customer service". This guy is phenomenal and always goes above and beyond the call of duty, especially AFTER the sale. He is a great "arranger" and has been extremely helpful in steering me to the right repair shop, insurance guy, invited us to parties, much more. Oscar did all the arrangements to hook me up with a fixer in Panama who did all the paperwork for my pensionado import tax exemption. The dealership was a few days late in delivering the car and Oscar arranged for me to get a refund of what I paid for car rental. I couldn't believe it! It took 2 weeks to get my refund check, but he took care of everything. There was some sort of holiday sale AFTER I bought and paid for the car, but prior to delivery, and Oscar without even being asked, arranged for another $1000 to be taken off my final price. He also has arranged for us to be introduced to other of his gringo friends, so we have met several more great folks because of his "arranging". Whenever I need anything in the David area, I just call Oscar and he gets me to the right people. A rare and very trustworthy special guy. He certainly understands networking and how to use it to help all of his customers. I could not recommend him more strongly. Bill."

  • "Arthur is right; some cars are "world cars" with few differences from market to market, some are very market specific. A real problem when comparing cars and evaluating importing vs. buying locally is to ensure that you are actually comparing apples to apples. Many cars sold in Panama have the same model names and exteriors of those sold in the US, but are very different mechanically. For example; We imported a US-spec, 2005 Hyundai Tucson, a small 4/5 passenger SUV sold in both countries. Here is the 2005 breakdown between both versions. US Version: V-6 gasoline engine, push button 4wd, ABS, Traction Control, Stability Control, dual mode auto trans, power windows, power door locks, two front and four side-curtain airbags, surround sound CD player, etc. etc. Panama Version: 4 cyl gas or diesel, no 4wd, maybe ABS, no Traction Control, No Stability Control, No power door locks, maybe power windows, ONE airbag, (driver's side only), Basic radio. Price? The fully equipped US car listed for $24,000+ and was bought for $18,000 cash, no trade-in. The poorly equipped Panama car was listed at $25,000 and as others have noted, you can't deal so an inferior version of the car was going to cost about $7,000 more. We had no real problem importing the car with the jubilado exclusion on import duty, but friends have reported far more hassles doing so over the last year so that might be a big factor in a buyer's decision making process. And is often the case on many subjects, Allan Hawkins is wrong about there being no model years for the vehicles sold in Panama. Damn right there are 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, etc. models. Car manufacturers don't build special, model-yearless versions for Panama. Mike."

  • "My biggest surprise when buying a top of the line Toyota Prado SUV was that it came with a cassette tape recorder standard. Oh, it also has a CD disk capability, but can you believe, a brand new car sold anywhere in the world with a cassette deck? No options available whatsoever on sound system. Take it or leave it. I sold all of my cassettes at a yard sale about 10 years ago! Bill."

  • "We just bought a new 2008 Nissan XTrail. The salesman assured us that there is no difference between the 2008 and 2009 models, and we could see none, though we did not examine each and every nut and bolt. We saved over $3000.00 so it seems the different model years are identifiable, if only by VIN. Whatever the case, there was no dickering on the price, though we did get a free alarm and a break on the optional fog lights. I bought my first new car in Panama in 1977 and now as then, it remains a frustrating experience for someone accustomed to US car sales practices. Henry."

  • "Agree with Art here. Most manufacturers design world cars now with perhaps a few with less features for developing markets (read third world). It costs less for them to do this than increase their variables in production causing lower quality. It used to be easy to defeat emission controls but with computer controlled engines, etc. this is a very bad idea. Highly suggest not messing with the manufacturer's design. And two last little items -- Air bags are basically worthless if you are not wearing a seat belt. The belt restrains you long enough for the airbag to fully inflate. Pay attention to your hand position on the steering wheel. 10 and 2 is not a good idea if your car has a driver's side airbag. Better to be at 8 and 4 or no higher than 9 and 3. Why? Broken arm(s) if the bag inflates with your hands above the the 9 and 3 position. Happy motoring. Hunter."

  • "Hunter, correct you are. Last weekend I went for my every three year AAA driving course to lower my auto insurance and 8 and 4 is what they are teaching. Been practicing this past week and thus far it feels real odd. Barry."

    Copyright 2008 by Don Winner for Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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