By any measure this has been a long, hard year for the retail motor industry. Many dealers have faced the toughest time of their business lives, with the industry close to collapse as cashflows are stretched to the limit.
It seems hard to believe it was only just over 12 months ago that the 'rip-off Britain' campaign was at its height. And just over 12 months since the Consumers' Association hijacked the London motor show with its cheap imports message. A year is a long time in business.
At last, after all the turmoil, it does seem there is some hope on the horizon. Price cuts from the two major volume players, and by the hard-hit prestige brands, have brought a measure of stability. Other carmakers have weighed in with extra trading money but are still holding back on making a decisive move.
There remains some concern that this action has come too late. The wet, cold days of winter are not good times to sell cars. Floods and the threat of fuel blockades have added to traditional diversions such as Christmas shopping. But that does not mean there are no customers around.
Many of the people browsing the forecourt may not be planning to buy until the new year but that does not mean they should be ignored. There is evidence customers do believe the market has bottomed out - they are beginning to come back into showrooms and used car prices are starting to stabilise. The successful motor dealer should be ready to seize the advantage.
In the current value-for-money climate there is bound to be a renewed emphasis on sticker price. Customers will want to know how much has been taken off the top. But it has always been the role of motor finance to make cars affordable - not just cheap.
An important consideration here is the simple fact that car prices are falling at a time when disposable income is rising. Interest rates are stable, the economy is strong and unemployment is low. If you could get economists to agree on anything, they would accept these are ideal conditions for retailing.
So, customers coming into your showroom will be well placed to buy. Presented with the right finance scheme, they may be pleasantly surprised by the quality of car they can afford. The ability to walk customers up the buying chain is more accessible than ever - if you get the finance right.
Perhaps it is time to fall back on old, time-honoured motor retail skills such as careful prequalifying, tight valuation of any trade-in and - if the service is available - a quick consultation with the business manager.
Making the car of their dreams affordable to customers is more important than ever and still the best way to win loyalty, and maximise your profits from finance and insurance.
Motor retailers have a legendary ability to turn a crisis into an opportunity. Here at Chartered Trust we recognise and understand that ability - and we are here to help. Call your local representative now and we will discuss the opportunities with you.