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Fury over delay to prices report

Automotive industry leaders were this week infuriated by the Competition Commission's failure to meet the December 16 deadline set for its report on new car retailing.

Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers will not receive the recommendations until January 31, creating a further period of uncertainty as retail buyers delay purchases. This month's deadline was set by Office of Fair Trading director general John Bridgeman in the spring when he asked the commission to inquire into allegations of a price-fixing cartel.

Denise Kingsmill, who heads the inquiry, has annoyed the industry by releasing snapshots of its thoughts, holding an unprecedented public hearing and continuing to ask for information. Consumers' Association director Sheila McKechnie and her colleagues further inflamed feelings this month by welcoming the problems caused to carmakers and dealers.

According to the commission, the industry is to blame for the delay, by submitting large amounts of new material, some as late as this month. The DTI said this needed to be considered carefully “to ensure the report is fair and accurate”.

Christopher Macgowan, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders' chief executive, called on the Government to “act now and reassure customers there will be no ill-conceived quick fix” over the pricing issue.

The industry ends the year in a state of turmoil, with conflicting statements. Alan Pulham, National Franchised Dealers Association director, said: “We call for manufacturers to recognise the decline in customer confidence. They must reduce prices now to reactivate the market, and not wait for the commission report, especially in the light of this delay.”

Mr Pulham said other carmakers must follow the Mitsubishi price cut lead, otherwise there was a real danger the January market would be deflated. SMMT official figures showed November registrations dropped 5.9% on the corresponding month last year, leaving the year-to-date market down 1.8%, at 2,113,303 units. The last five trading days of November accounted for 31% of the month's total registrations.

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