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BT blaze causes motor industry online chaos

Hundreds of motor industry businesses were among those hit by a fire on March 29 that destroyed 130,000 BT phone lines deep underground in Manchester.

As dealers and manufacturers were preparing for the last rush of March registrations, the fire paralysed communication systems across much of the west country and north-west England.

Manufacturers were unable to contact their retail networks and source data, dealers were unable to contact customers and register vehicles, and logistical systems were plunged into chaos. Several carmakers were still experiencing problems as AM went to press. Manchester Chamber of Commerce said some companies had lost £5m due to the disruption. Although BT managed to reroute some systems, this led to a saturation of associated switches, further hitting communications.

A spokesman for the DVLA says “The fire in a BT tunnel at Chapel Street in Manchester has resulted in a disruption to the DVLA's automated first registration and licensing (AFRL) system, which allows motor dealers to register and license new vehicles electronically.

“We have contacted those manufacturers affected to discuss contingency arrangements in order to minimise disruption to the service. The Agency, and its service partners, are in discussions with BT to establish when the services will be restored. We are doing everything possible to resolve the technical difficulties and to restore connections to our customers.”

Alan Pulham, director of the RMI's Franchised Dealer division, says that although some dealers had been forced to close their March sales efforts a few days early, there was little evidence of panic in the trade. “This perhaps shows that figures had been going pretty well up to the time of the fire,” he adds.

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