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Rental firms replacement cycles offer T-plate temptation

Patchy looks like being the word for the whole of 1999 - the year has not seen a universal mood across the industry. While some have reported nothing but gloom, others have undoubtedly had it very good. And everyone else has experienced all points in between.

This month the issue to look out for is the availability of T-plates as rental companies replace some of their stock with the latest letter.

In a market which has been made artificially volatile by a new registration system the sudden influx of T-plates on the eve of yet another new letter could have caused major problems. However, manufacturers are feeding buy-backs through their own disposal schemes and if these are handled sensibly there should be a manageable supply.

In general we have been seeing more part-exchanges and many are in the much-needed good quality/more than two years old, bracket. They are always welcome but never more so than when the market has been overrun with sheds and nearly-news. Many traders have become more active and are enthusiastically chasing cars for which dealers are receiving retail enquiries.

Some seriously strong money is being made by newish entries into the used executive market, such as the new BMW 3 Series. And older examples such as BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E Class and 300 Series Jaguar are now such good value that, provided re-con is manageable and full service history is present, carefully chosen cars will present no retail problems.

The Sports sector has also been enjoying a resurgence, regardless of the unpredictable weather. The picture is summed up by the 'complaints' that while previously some cars were outstaying their welcome, the only serious problem now has been replacing sold stock quickly enough.

In fact, even cars which can fairly be described as a bit rough have been snapped up provided they will prep up to retail standard without completely wiping out a half decent margin.

Going back to the subject of the V-plate it has been interesting to see what a damp squib the new plate system has turned out to be among the public, at least on the surface. And amusing to see how the old system of one massive sales peak in August has simply been replaced by two large sales peaks, rather than the smoothed-out market some had predicted.

Whether or not it was a beneficial move for the automotive market as a whole will be debated for some time to come but one thing is inescapable. Just when the market should have been picking up this year, in April and May, it began sliding again. Nobody out there at the sharp end feels able to plan ahead with any real confidence for fear of being caught out.

Quite how this has benefited anybody still has me baffled.

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