Mr Macgowan, speaking to dealers at Automotive Management's industry breakfast on business/fleet day, was “saddened” by Rover's attitude. He said a campaign had been started to suggest the show “was not an appropriate place to be, not a show where you sell cars”.
He added: “How Rover chooses to spend its marketing budget is its own affair. But I am saddened they elected not to be here.”
Mr Macgowan said the motor show was “hugely important for the motor industry and for the SMMT”.
More than 750,000 people would visit the NEC and the launch of many new cars came at the end of a difficult year for the industry.
“The industry is still in a period of uncertainty and there is some way to go to get the consumer onside,” he said. “The message that now is a good time to buy a car is beginning to get through but the market is not right yet.”
Keith Horlock, executive director of First National Motor Finance, which sponsored the breakfast, predicted better trading conditions in 2001. He said he saw some light at the end of the tunnel.
First National used the breakfast to launch its www.getmotoring.co.uk website which will act as a stock locator system to direct customers to its dealer network. The consumer facing site will also link direct to Abbey National's main internet site. Abbey National, with 12 million customers, is the parent company of First National Motor Finance.
“The launch of Get Motoring is a great opportunity for us and for the dealers who want to participate with us,” said Mr Horlock. “It will give customers access to thousands of cars through our existing facilities.”
Mr Horlock said the launch of Get Motoring was one result of the huge investment by First National in IT over the past year. The finance company is also rolling out First Online, its web-enabled finance proposal system which will be available to dealers across the country.
Despite the launch of a consumer-facing website, Mr Horlock said First National remained committed to supplying point-of-sale finance and would not go direct to the public. But he signalled future business would not always be through traditional channels. “We have to consider that maybe the point of sale is beginning to move,” he said. “The dotcom companies are now a point of sale. That doesn't shift our focus, which is to supply the retail motor industry.”