Legalising of smuggled vehicles: CCP seeks reversal of notification

ISLAMABAD: In what appears to be a first formal reaction against the amnesty scheme, the Competition Commission of Pakistan has asked the Ministry of Finance to withdraw the notification that allows legalising of smuggled vehicles on nominal duty and taxes.

The Commission in a detailed policy note sent on Thursday asked the ministry and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to rescind the notification SRO172 issued on March 5, which the Commission believed would only promote anti-businesses and competition practices in the country.

The policy note, a copy of which is available with Dawn, clearly mentioned that the issuance of the SRO was a cause of concern for the Commission and would only benefit owners of smuggled vehicles against those who import it through legal channels.

The reaction from the Commission came at a time when the amnesty scheme was believed to have been designed in a way to extend facilitation to elites especially the political elites to register their luxury vehicles on nominal duty and taxes.

The Commission pointed towards a series of irregularities in the amnesty schemes.

The allowable age limit for import of a car is three years under the latest SRO 1441 (I)/2012 issued on Dec 12, 2012 by the Ministry of Commerce while there is no age limit for the smuggled/ non-duty paid motor vehicles under the amnesty scheme.

The commission is of the view that due to amnesty scheme, dissimilar conditions for imports under allowable age limits have been applied to importers of motor vehicles through the regular normal channels in contrast to persons clearing their smuggled/non-duty paid vehicles under the SRO172.

As a matter of fact, the persons who have violated the law by not paying the taxes and duties have been incentivised to import motor vehicles of their choice without imposition of any allowable age restriction on them.

In addition, the policy under the amnesty is discriminatory against the persons importing motor vehicles through normal regular channels to the extent that the facility of duty and tax concessions under SRO172 has not been extended to the motor vehicles imported in violation of ‘Import Policy Order’ via normal channels through a custom station.

On the other hand, the smuggled/non-duty paid motor vehicles anywhere in Pakistan but outside the premises of custom stations have been allowed to avail the facility of duty and tax concessions under the amnesty scheme SRO. The importers who have opted to import via normal channels but violated ‘Import Policy Order’ have, in fact, been discriminated in contrast to the persons possessing smuggled/non-duty paid vehicles anywhere in Pakistan.

For three-year old cars imported through regular channel, an importer could avail maximum depreciation allowance up to 48 per cent.

Contrary to this, the maximum depreciation in value for assessment of duty for smuggled vehicles is up to 72 pc.

If depreciation criteria is taken into account with no time limit set for claiming depreciation under the amnesty scheme, undue advantage has been provided to owners of the smuggled/non duty paid motor vehicles in contrast to importers under normal channels in the form of extra depreciation reward of even up to 100pc subject to the condition of a nominal minimum payment for duties and taxes, such as $500 and Rs100,000.

Through this facility, discriminatory treatment has been meted out to the importer of vehicles through normal channels and dissimilar conditions have been applied to them in contrast to owners of smuggled/non duty paid motor vehicles.

The commission further said that the scheme is also likely to affect the production decisions of relevant stakeholders’ ie automobile assemblers/manufacturers.

The automobile industry in Pakistan is inward looking and they plan their production decisions on the domestic demand forecasts.

The market forecasts may change due to the import surge of older motor vehicles, which may adversely affect the competitive environment for automobile sector as some of the vehicles cleared under the amnesty scheme act as a substitute for vehicles assembled in the country.

It further stated that the amnesty scheme for smuggled vehicles may result in creation of grey market for automobile vehicles in the country on sustained basis.

The existence of grey market would act as a parallel market of automobile vehicles in the country and would create an unfair competition for the formal sector.

Similarly, smuggled/non-duty paid motor vehicles envisaged to be cleared under the scheme would not be subject to several tests, such as roadworthiness and emission control tests as no criteria for allowable age limit has been set for clearance of smuggled/non-duty paid motor vehicles under the subject SRO.

On the other hand, vehicles imported under the regular import channels are required to undergo roadworthiness test.

LAMBORGHINI UNVEILS $3.9 MILLION CAR – ALL 3 SOLD

GENEVA – Who buys a (euro) 3 million ($3.9 million) car? Not you.  

Lamborghini’s run of the new Veneno is sold out – though it only made three.   The latest in its tradition of bespoke cars, the Veneno is the fastest, most powerful Lamborghini ever built.

At the Geneva Motor Show, where it was revealed Monday night, Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann made sure to rev the engine as he drove the car out on stage.

Rest assured, the Veneno, which is named for an infamous fighting bull, sounds like a Lamborghini.

But why build a car for just three people?    

”It gives you a high degree of freedom in terms of the design, you can test materials and new technologies, it has a halo effect on the other products,” said Winkelmann. ”Last but not least, you’re fulfilling dreams, at least for a few people.”

A carmaker like Lamborghini isn’t immune from the travails of the economy, but sales of high-end cars, like many luxury products, have been surprisingly resilient. And a one-off like the Veneno creates a lot of buzz – or a halo – for the rest of the brand.

Lamborghini is also part of the highly successful Volkswagen Group, which is weathering the European storm better than others.

Two of the buyers – both Americans – were in Geneva to get their first look at the car, having signed the contract long ago.

Antoine Dominic, who is the principal in a Lamborghini dealership on Long Island, and Kris Singh II, a Floridian who is the managing director of investment firm Tequesta Investments, both have collections of exotic cars and both plan to actually use the car.

UNDER THE HOOD: Powering the Veneno is a 12-cylinder engine and a 7-speed transmission with five different driving modes. Lamborghini says the Veneno can reach speeds of 220 miles per hour (355 kilometers per hour) and accelerates from 0-60 mph in 2.8 seconds.

OUTSIDE: The body is carbon-fiber to keep the car as light as possible and allow for that quick acceleration. The shape is angular and muscular, with cut-outs sprinkled throughout and a back fin that fades into the roof. The rear looks like the bottom of a rocket ship, and the car nearly kisses the ground it sits so low.

INSIDE: Scissor doors open up to reveal an interior also clad in carbon-fiber. The feel is suede-like throughout, but the dashboard has a fairly standard look. You don’t feel as if you’re about to take off.

CHEERS: The customers are thrilled – though they have yet to actually get behind the wheel.

”It’s rolling artwork, it’s like owning the Mona Lisa,” said Singh. ”I look forward to driving it.”

Dominic said that can be hard since it turns so many heads. He plans to take it out at 5 a.m. on a Sunday when he finally gets it.

OPEN QUESTIONS: Lamborghini is billing the Veneno as a race car that just happens to be street legal – but how closely they’ve hewn to racing technology is unclear.

”It sounds like they’re trying to use the cache of a racing vehicle but not go the whole way,” said Paul Newton, an analyst with I.H.S. Automotive.

Bin Laden movie “Zero Dark Thirty” arrives, mired in controversy

Director and producer of the movie Kathryn Bigelow waves at the premiere of ''Zero Dark Thirty''at the Dolby theatre in Hollywood, California December 10, 2012. The movie opens in the US on January 11. — Reuters Photo

NEW YORK: Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow could have made a testosterone-fueled shoot-’em-up Hollywood version of the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden.

Instead, she and screenwriter Mark Boal turned “Zero Dark Thirty” into a more complex look at the decade-long hunt for the al Qaeda leader, including a frank presentation of US torture and previously undisclosed details of the mission to hunt down the man behind the September 11 attacks.

When the film opens in limited US release on Wednesday, Bigelow and Boal want audiences to disregard a year of controversies, including claims, which they have denied, that the film makers were leaked classified information.

“It’s about a look inside the intelligence community. The strength and power and courage and dedication and tenacity and vulnerability of these women and men,” Bigelow, 61, told Reuters in a joint interview with Boal.

Bigelow won an Academy Award in 2010 for “The Hurt Locker,” about US army bomb disposal experts in Iraq. She says her latest movie puts the audience at the center of the quest to find bin Laden, and gives a perspective of the US intelligence community and how its methods changed in the years following the September 11 attacks.

“It’s a controversial topic, it’s a topic that has been endlessly politicized. The film has been mischaracterised for a year and a half and we would love it if people would go and see it and judge for themselves,” Boal said.

The action thriller has emerged as an Oscar front-runner after picking up multiple early awards and nominations from Hollywood groups.

FROM TORA BORA TO ABBOTTABAD

When bin Laden was killed by Navy commandos in  May 2011, Bigelow was only months away from shooting a film about the failed bid to find him in the Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan during the US -led invasion a decade earlier.

She quickly revised the project.

“Zero Dark Thirty” opens not long after the September 11 attacks with graphic scenes of interrogation, including water boarding, sexual humiliation and a detainee being forced into a box.

It stars Jessica Chastain as a CIA officer called “Maya” who uses intelligence gleaned from brutal interrogations, electronic surveillance and old-fashioned spying to track down bin Laden through his use of couriers.

The opening scenes of torture, which are seen in the movie as yielding both correct and false information from prisoners, have inflamed debate in the United States.

Bigelow and Boal said the film is not meant to pass judgment – positive or negative – on such interrogation. “What we are trying to show, is that it (torture) happened. Which I think is not that controversial,” said Boal.

“It’s obviously an ongoing debate. It’s a debate within the community of people who are experts and I am sure that debate will continue for many years,” he added.

Bigelow points out that much of the second half of the film shows agents using other methods such as electronic surveillance.

The movie shifts between locations, including secret CIA centers in foreign countries known as Black sites, the Pakistan city of Islamabad and Camp Chapman, in Khost, Afghanistan. It is not meant to be an accurate depiction of all the players involved in hunting the al Qaeda leader, Bigelow and Boal said.

REAL AND COMPOSITE CHARACTERS

Instead, it tells the story through the eyes of Maya, fresh-faced and not long in the field, battling security threats, CIA bureaucracy and unsupportive bosses to eventually track bin Laden to his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

“She is based on a real person, and there are other people who also contributed who are not represented, whose work I hope is reflected in her character – it’s a character in a movie and not a documentary,” Boal said.

“I wanted to put the audience in the perspective of those people, those men and women on the ground who are conducting this hunt,” said Bigelow. “It’s ten years compressed into two plus hours…But it’s really the rhythm of the hunt that creates the rhythm of the movie.”

Chastain told Reuters in an interview that the woman she portrays is still active. The Washington Post has reported that the agent is now in her thirties, remains undercover and while receiving the agency’s highest medal, was denied a promotion.

Boal, a freelance journalist turned screenwriter who won a best screenplay Oscar for “The Hurt Locker”, would not elaborate except to say that the agent was “a real person.”

“I spoke to a number of people, I gathered as many first hand accounts as I could,” he said. He has denied being leaked, or asking for, any classified material.

Early reviews of the film, which will be released more widely on January 11, have been positive, especially for Bigelow’s sense of pacing and suspense. The Hollywood Reporter said it “could well be the most impressive film Bigelow has made, as well as possibly her most personal.”

4 Cylinders in a Big Car: Sometimes Less Is More

IN an engineering move that pursues the delicious — if elusive — goal of having one’s cake and eating it, too, Ford is offering the 2013 Taurus family sedan with a fuel-efficientturbocharged 4-cylinder engine.In doing so, Ford is going unconventional with its most conventional vehicle, a large sedan with a curb weight of almost two tons.

Not radically unconventional, mind you: small engines are arriving in big cars from many makers, and Ford even offered a 4-cylinder in the original Taurus of 1986, when gas seemed cheap at a pump price of less than $1 a gallon.

The goal in 2013, of course, is to provide full-size accommodations with something closer to pint-size fuel economy. It is a tactic that makes the Taurus, with a combined city-highway rating of 26 m.p.g., the country’s most fuel-efficient large traditional sedan, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In second place is the 2013 Toyota Avalon, with a combined rating of 24 m.p.g.; that car has a 3.5-liter V-6.

In recent years the once-popular Taurus — it was America’s best-selling car five years running and peaked at more than 400,000 in sales twice in the 1990s — has had a troubled on-again, off-again existence. When its popularity dimmed to near invisibility, it was replaced by the 2005 Five Hundred. But the Five Hundred was so disappointing that Ford — in what some saw as desperation — renamed it Taurus for the 2008 model year.

The base engine in the new Taurus is a 3.5-liter V-6 built in Lima, Ohio, and rated at 288 horsepower. In a reversal of the norm, the extra-cost option is a smaller engine, the 240-horsepower 2-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder built in Spain. It costs $995.

The EcoBoost 4 is a relatively advanced engine, using not just a turbocharger but also direct injection of gasoline into the combustion chamber, a design intended to provide more power and better fuel economy. Its torque output of 270 pound-feet tops the V-6 engine’s 254, and it reaches that peak 1,000 r.p.m. sooner. Both the 2.0 EcoBoost and the V-6 engines are paired with attentive and effective 6-speed automatic transmissions.

The EcoBoost label, incidentally, simply means it is part of a family of Ford engines in various sizes, all sharing turbocharging, direct injection and a higher price.

To Ford’s credit, the 2.0 EcoBoost is a stand-alone option on the Taurus and is available on even the least expensive version, the SE. That model has a starting price of $27,395 with the V-6, and adding the EcoBoost engine option inflates the window sticker to $28,390.

With the 2.0 EcoBoost, the Taurus is rated at 22 miles per gallon in town and 32 miles per gallon on the highway. That is 3 m.p.g. better than the standard V-6 in both types of driving.

According to the E.P.A.’s Web site (www.fueleconomy.gov), the EcoBoost would save about $250 a year compared with the V-6. That calculation is based on 15,000 miles a year (55 percent city driving) and 87-octane gas priced at $3.39 a gallon.

Stated another way, to reap any savings from the 2.0 EcoBoost option, an owner would have to keep the car almost four years — though it could pay off sooner if gas prices zoomed or if the car were driven an extraordinary number of miles.

The Taurus can be ordered with all-wheel drive, though the 2.0 EcoBoost is available only on front-drive models, including the Limited version that I tested.

The test car had a starting price of $33,795, including a $795 destination charge. Ford then added $6,880 in options, including the EcoBoost ($995); navigation system ($795) and adaptive cruise control and collision warning ($1,195).

There was also a $3,500 package with a long list of features including a heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, an automatic parallel-parking system, a Sony audio system and blind-spot monitors. The total sticker price was $40,675.

Particularly with all the creature comforts, the Taurus is a pleasant and accommodating large sedan. The front seats are comfortable, a good compromise of soft and supportive, making a five-hour stretch on the road possible.

But rear legroom is only adequate for a 6-foot adult. Its 38.1 inches is 0.2 inch less than in the 2013 Ford Fusion, a midsize car.

The 20-cubic foot trunk is huge, however.

Ford’s notorious and ill-conceived MyFord Touch system continues as the bad boy of ergonomics despite the automaker’s attempts at rehabilitation. It is supposed to make controlling everything from the audio system to the climate control easier, but it doesn’t. It just makes things that should be simple, like changing the temperature, more complicated.

A voice-control system offers an alternative. But it can be a chore, requiring several steps to do something that one should be able to handle with one twist of an old-fashioned knob.
On my test car, the touch screen sometimes had to be touched several times before the system responded. During one daylong drive, the lower part of the navigation screen went blank for about eight hours, and then returned. Ford said its dealer was not able to duplicate the problem.

Whether on the Interstate or on a country two-lane, the Taurus offers a comfortable ride with the kind of dutiful but unenthusiastic handling that one expects from a large family car. For drivers who want a greater level of engagement, Ford offers the Taurus SHO with more power and a sport suspension.

Even with three adults and a trunk filled with luggage, the 4-cylinder Taurus easily ambled along at 70 m.p.h. on the Interstate, and it has adequate power for merging onto freeways among New York City’s less-than-forgiving drivers.

The issue is not the car’s accelerative potency, but its refinement. Under even moderate acceleration there is a level of 4-cylinder noise and vibration that would be marginally acceptable in a modestly priced sedan, but seems out of place in an upscale car like the Taurus Limited.

Over 350 highway miles — at typical speeds of 65 to 75 m.p.h. — I got 27 m.p.g. That’s a huge 5 m.p.g. less than the E.P.A. estimate, but I was driving in hilly terrain with a heavy load.

Ford is hoping the improvements to the Taurus, as well as the 2.0 EcoBoost engine, will help win sales, which haven’t been great.

Through the first 11 months of the year, Ford sold 67,471 vehicles, including some police cars and fleet sales, according to LMC Automotive, a market research firm.

That compares with 159,710 Chevrolet Impalas, 63,572 Chrysler 300s, 74,725 Dodge Chargers and 55,212 Nissan Maximas, LMC said.

The auto industry can be a rude and disappointing arena, and Toyota will try to spoil things with its redesigned Avalon, which goes on sale this month.

The E.P.A. ratings for the Avalon with a 268-horsepower V-6 will be only 1 m.p.g. lower for both city and highway use than the 4-cylinder Taurus.

There will also be a hybrid version of the Avalon with a 4-cylinder engine, which Toyota says will be rated at 40 m.p.g. in town and 39 on the highway. However, the least expensive V-6 Avalon will be $31,785, which includes leather upholstery and heated front seats. Direct comparisons can be tricky because of variations in standard equipment.

The least expensive Avalon Hybrid will be $36,350.

In each of the last three years, Toyota never sold more than 29,000 Avalons, which is not much more than a curious footnote in the large-sedan segment.

So, yes, the 2013 Taurus with the 2.0 EcoBoost is a pleasing combination. But the package is hardly compelling because its strongest draw — the lure of better fuel economy — is undermined by the extra $1,000 that it costs