Two parallel import car dealers shut suddenly, allegedly owe customers $300,000 in deposits

Parallel import car dealerships Apex Car (left) and Novelty Auto have closed, leaving some customers in the lurch.
Parallel import car dealerships Apex Car (left) and Novelty Auto have closed, leaving some customers in the lurch.ST PHOTOS: JONATHAN CHOO

SINGAPORE - Two parallel import car dealers have shuttered without notice, leaving customers who have paid a total of some $300,000 in deposits in limbo.

Apex Car, located on the second storey of Automobile Megamart in Ubi, allegedly owes at least five customers about $206,000 in total.

At the nearby First East Centre in Kaki Bukit Road 2, Novelty Auto has closed its ground floor showroom after failing to deliver cars to at least four customers, who paid about $98,000 in total as deposits.

These sudden closures have led the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) to issue public warnings against both companies recently.

"Consumers who suspect that fraud is involved should report such cases to the police," Case said in a notice on its website.

The police confirmed that reports have been made against both companies and said they are looking into the matter.

Both showrooms were closed when The Straits Times visited them last week.

The signboard of Novelty Auto hung above an empty showroom, while little trace of Apex Car remained - its signboard has been removed, leaving just a faded red Chinese New Year banner that read "prosperity in business" above its locked glass door.

The two companies are not linked, according to records from the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority.

Apex Car is owned by Singaporeans, Mr Lim Mount Neng and Mr Chew Boon Meng, both in their 40s.

The company, which has been in business since 2010, has a paid-up capital of $10,000.

 
 

It claims on its still working website that it is one of Singapore's top parallel car importers. The website also has a logo of the "Top 100 SME Singapore Elite Enterprise award" from the little-known Singapore Award Association, a private advertising company.

Apex Car's sudden closure has caused problems to not just its customers, but also Apex Trading, another car dealer with a similar sounding name, which has a showroom just several doors away.

"There were people who came to my showroom asking about the closure. We are not related," said Mr Lim Lee Heng, owner of Apex Trading. "I have been in the business for more than 20 years and my company is CaseTrusted," he added, referring to the accreditation scheme run by Case. "The closure (of Apex Car) has tarnished the reputation of my company."

Novelty Auto, which has been operating for only about nine months, is solely owned by Mr Wong Hwee Cheia, a Malaysian in his 30s.

The owners of both Apex Car and Novelty Auto could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, Case said that the car industry has topped its complaints list for the past six years.

In the past three years, it received complaints related to 17 car companies that have suddenly closed, leaving customers in the lurch.

While some of the closures could be a result of business failures, two of these were two high-profile criminal cases. In 2016, Poh Chee Tiong, the boss of Cars Today, was jailed seven years for cheating 71 buyers, 14 sellers and four finance companies of a total of $3.16 million in money and cars.

Last year, Volks Auto owner Koh Chek Seng was jailed for 10 years for cheating 182 people, in what was believed to be the largest cheating case in the car industry, involving some $6.1 million.

Case executive director Loy York Jiun advised those drawn to cheaper parallel import cars to be wary when prices are too good to be true.

"Always negotiate to pay as low a deposit as possible upon signing the contract. Do not make full payment upfront to the parallel importer," he added.

Note: This story has been edited for clarity.