New mainland regulations on car import licences have put the squeeze on smaller vehicle dealers, resulting in a big drop in imports in the first five months of the year. The mainland's car imports were expected to surge after quotas were lifted and import tariffs lowered from January 1 under its World Trade Organisation obligations, but imports have slumped, surprising analysts and car dealers. In Tianjin, a major entry point for imported cars, numbers were down 38 per cent year on year to 19,674 vehicles in the first five months. In Dalian, customs authorities saw a 57.8 per cent drop to 5,290 cars. China National Automotive Industry Consulting and Development Corp analyst Jia Xinguang said new regulations introduced in April had shut smaller dealers out of the import sector by allowing only authorised franchisees of foreign brands to trade. Also, the Ministry of Commerce has been enforcing new licensing rules for car importers since the beginning of the year. According to a Tianjin customs official, only 20 or so of the 400-plus dealers in the Tianjin Free Trade Zone were eligible to import cars under the rules. 'These regulations have seriously constrained car imports because it takes at least two to three months to get the licence. They demonstrate the government's policy of limiting imports and promoting cars made in China.' Consumers seem unconcerned, opting to buy locally made, foreign-brand cars on economic grounds. 'It's the brand name that counts, not the origin,' an investment banking manager said. Zhou Yongchun, manager of a domestic securities firm and owner of a Buick made by Shanghai General Motors, said nobody doubted imported cars were of better quality, 'but we are not billionaires, so domestically made foreign-brand cars are appropriate for us'.