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CA attacks 1999 sales 'sham'

New car registration figures for last year have been branded a “sham” by the Consumers' Association after the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders claimed 1999 was “a successful year”, reaching its sales target of 2.2m units.

Phil Evans, Consumers' Association senior policy researcher, compared the new car registration figures to election results in the old Soviet Union, saying the industry was desperate to mask the effect of a consumer backlash against new car prices.

“The manufacturers have been forced to 'sell' hundreds of thousands of cars to themselves in an attempt to massage new car figures,” he said. “The way to resolve the situation is to break their stranglehold over the industry and true competition will bring prices down.”

The Association's contention that customers deserted showrooms during December was supported by dealers and by the National Franchised Dealers Association. Its director Alan Pulham warned some dealers faced “severe trading difficulties” as customers stayed away.

Unofficial estimates of the number of false registrations during 1999 vary from 300,000 to 500,000. Dealers have warned they can no longer afford to fund preregistered stock, particularly when nearly-new values are plummeting. Oversupply and heavy marketing support is pushing down the transaction prices on new cars.

Christopher Macgowan, SMMT chief executive, said: “As a result of the competitive marketplace, the year has ended in line with forecasts, just 2% down on 1998.”

The figures show last year ended with 2,197,615 registrations, a drop of 2.22% on 1998's figure of 2,247,402. In December, 84,582 cars were registered, a drop of 12.21% on the 1998 figure of 96,346 which itself was wildly inflated by preregistration.

Registrations in the final quarter of the year were down 6.5%, from 403,923 in 1998 to 377,519 in 1999.

The introduction of two registration plate changes, in March and September, had a marked effect on the pattern of sales with the huge peak in August replaced by two smaller, more manageable peaks. Analysts expected demand patterns to even out further, with a gradual shift towards March as the largest month of the year.

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