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CAP Trade Watch

We have now seen a full cycle of plate changes under the new system, and it's making very little impression on the buying public. When you think back to the original system of August change it really was quite something to have the latest letter parked on your drive.

That phenomenon has been wiped out due to a natural devaluing of the latest plate - two a year instead of one - and also a general lack of understanding among the public... and in certain corners of the trade. The point here is that people are turning their attention to the '0' prefix plate, purely because they can actually relate the '0' to a year. This has become more apparent in 2002 with many retailers finding it difficult to generate enough interest to fulfil their target requirements. In a lot of cases people had only achieved between 20 and 30 per cent of their anticipated sales by the first week of September.

Back in the August days these dealers would have delivered more than 50 per cent of their month's target by then. This has become a dual problem because dealers were anticipating a good start with a lot of nice retail stock coming back in part exchange. Because this didn't happen, many have been turning to the auction halls to find stock. This has put a big drain on supplies.

So, where does this leave the market? By now, the SMMT will have published figures to tell us all we have had another record month for new car registrations. But if, as the dealers are telling us, these cars are not going to their usual sources of business, then who and where are these new registrations going to? Could we just find a larger than expected number of 'tactical registrations'?

The reality is that the only plates people are interested in are 02/03. Looking at the pattern developing, it is increasingly apparent that all we have done is replace August with March.

Rob Hester is CAP Black Book senior editor

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