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First bi-annual plate changes accelerates ageing process

At last all the speculation about the T-plate and its impact on late plate values is over and instead, we are seeing the results and it has to be said 'they ain't pretty'.

The first thing you notice is how old some of the latest letters look - a 98R, for example, already looks quite an old car, although it is only eight months old. It doesn't takes a rocket scientist to work out what that means for P, N or M-plates - suddenly they look very old.

So the trade is bidding accordingly and a great deal of care must be taken when valuing stock of this age. One school of thought suggests that the plate will eventually become meaningless in itself in terms of values. The theory goes: why would somebody want to pay £1,000 more on a bread and butter car just to get a different letter?

The second letter change will probably fall in value in line with its disappearing prestige.

So what impact will this have on the buying patterns of the people that count - the retail punters? They are likely to view model year changes as the big differentiator between cars. That way they can see exactly what they are paying extra for.

There are strong signs that switched-on retail customers are asking sensible questions about spec as their product knowledge increases.

This could lead to changes in the traditional timings of model changes. Currently manufacturers are geared up for the big shows and we see many revamps around October. It seems likely that they will soon prefer to spark consumer interest earlier in the year to get them into the new September plate. But whether it will work quite that simply I don't know.

It makes sense for retail customers to look at the year as the deciding issue, then waiting two or three months after the model launch - or facelift - and buying in the New Year. This product knowledge will probably apply equally to used cars as new, once the public catches on to the new system.

However, nothing that radical is likely to come from the manufacturers until everybody has had at least a year to watch what actually transpires.

While this looks quite negative there is an argument that the trade has in the past been forced into paying inflated values for second-letter cars - I certainly felt that when I was doing it myself.

This will affect the major disposers, who will need to rethink their policies. There are some S-plates around at the moment and a lot more to come. There are 98S-plates to rid, 99S-plates around the corner and T-plates to come - all of which must be fed into the market very carefully. Previously this happened in January and February but that was when everyone had until August to clear the decks. The extension of many contracts last year did keep 98S values up but that avenue is no longer open and the 99S is at the mercy of entirely new forces.

How the disposers respond will further shape the new market and we must all ensure we are fully aware of their intentions.

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