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Unofficial imports hit as new prices tumble

Falling new car list prices and a rise in the level of discounts available to buyers has led to a massive slump in the number of unofficial imports sold in the UK by internet operators and other parallel importers.

In the first three months of 2002, 33,909 cars were sold through unofficial channels, but in the period April-June just 5622 were registered, according to data analysed by DVLA licensee RL Polk & Co.

The figures suggest that online retailers and car supermarkets are increasingly sourcing cars from UK dealers - a trend that is likely to continue post block exemption reform - as the difference between prices evaporates.

In total, 630,597 new cars were registered in the second quarter of the year, with demand driven by private buyers. Their share of the market rose from 53.8 per cent in the first quarter to 56.1 per cent. Ford took 16.7 per cent of the market - up 0.7 per cent on the first quarter - while rival Vauxhall dipped slightly to 12 per cent.

Fiat's problems continue. The beleaguered carmaker enjoyed a revival of sorts in the first three months of the year, regaining a top 10 position on the back of a 3.6 per cent share of the market. But it has again lost ground and now stands at 11th on 3.1 per cent - behind both Mercedes-Benz (3.4 per cent) and BMW (3.2 per cent).

It was not the only manufacturer to lose market share: Peugeot, Citroen, Nissan and BMW all surrendered sales to competitors.

Estates and MPVs are the growth segments as carmakers' efforts to broaden their product ranges matched consumer demand. MPVs, which have filtered down into the lower medium and small car sectors, have now replaced coupes as the fifth most popular body type.

Less than one car was scrapped in the second quarter for every two new vehicles purchased, which added more than 333,000 cars to UK roads. It highlights the immense problems facing carmakers, consumers and the Government over the end of life vehicle directive.

Consumers will fund the disposal of end of life vehicles for cars sold from next year, while carmakers will become responsible for all cars under the retrospective element due to come into force in 2007. At particular risk are carmakers like MG Rover, which accounts for 6.9 per cent of the total car parc, but is now a much smaller company. Ford also has cause for concern with its massive 20.1 per cent share of the population - which translates into 5.6m cars - and Vauxhall (13.4 per cent; 3.7m cars).

The overall growth in car numbers remains slow - the car parc year-to-date grew by just 0.35 per cent at 27,859,167 units, compared to the corresponding period in 2001 - despite booming new car sales. A growing proportion of older cars is already being scrapped through natural wastage as low used car values combine with rising MoT and accident repair costs to increase the number of insurance write-offs.

More than 250,000 cars over 10 years old dropped off the DVLA register in the first half of the year. As a result, the age of the overall car parc dipped from 6.9 years at the end of last December to 6.8 years by the end of June.

The top 10 makes of car - headed by Ford - account for 73.7 per cent of the total car population. They also account for 71.6 per cent of cars between one and two years old, a figure that reveals the impact of new market entrants from Asia and Korea on the shape of the car population has been minimal.

In fact, few carmakers have had much effect on the leading marques. The 35 brands outside the top 10 each represent on average less than one per cent of the car parc.

Used car transaction in April-June rose 8.6 per cent on the first quarter to 1,969,448 units - faster than the rate of growth in the new car sector. “This may be a sign that the worst could be over for the over-stocked UK used car trade, which was faced in the first quarter with a glut of part-exchanges at the peak of the new car sales cycle,” says Polk.

Nearly new sales are starting to hold their own in the face of falling new car prices. Demand has stabilised, with second quarter sales just 426 units behind the first three months of the year, at 173,987. However, this has probably been at the cost of retailer profits, as prices are cut to stimulate the market.

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