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New 'grey' flood on way to UK

The market for grey imports is set to reach record levels this year, contrary to experts' predictions that lower new car prices in the UK would stem the tide of cars from Japan.

According to figures from the British Independent Motor Traders Association (BIMTA), up to 40,000 grey cars will be imported this year, making the UK the third largest market after New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates. That exceeds the 1999 peak by 10,000 units and reverses a downward slide – just 20,000 greys were sold in 2001.

The Yen has been stable for some time which has removed the risk of price fluctuations during the three- to four-week shipping times. On top of this, about 500 independent retailers are now thought to be selling grey imports at a higher level of professionalism.

“It's all about specialising,” says Rob Hester, CAP Grey Book editor. “There are two ends of the market – high value performance models like 350Z and Evo 8 which can be sold at premium ahead of their UK launch, and the more bread and butter MPVs and 4x4s.”

Cars are now sold with full provenance and HPI checks, although a few clocked vehicles do still slip into the country. Price is no longer the only factor driving the market; it's also about availability and specifications. But for retailers, the margins are not much more profitable than selling cars under an official franchise.

And CAP is warning prices might need to rise. The Government is planning to close a loophole in the enhanced Single Vehicle Application (SVA) test next year whereby importers can sidestep the need to supply a model report by registering the grey car as a disabled vehicle. The cost of the report will add a couple of hundred pounds to vehicle prices.

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