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September sales figures look set to add to gloom

September’s plate-change registrations were expected to be down by a quarter as AM went to press on Tuesday.

Data obtained by AM at 17 days into the total of 22 business days showed registrations totalled 251,652 units. That was a 26% drop against the figure on the same business day in September 2007.

It also suggested that unless business picked up by more than 60% in the final five business days, the market would be well below the SMMT’s 390,000-unit forecast. That prediction was already considerably lower than the September 2007 total of 419,290 registrations.

Below expectations

Although some European brands were expected to have begun their usual flurry of pack deals to boost registrations towards the month-end, industry insiders believed the month-end total would be significantly down.

SMMT chief executive Paul Everitt would not confirm numbers, but said: “This has probably been one of the most difficult periods we’ve faced for the last 16 to 17 years.”

AM called dealers on the last day of the month to learn that the market has been extremely hard going for new and used cars.

Worst in 24 years

Mark Lavery, chief executive of top 30 AM100 group Cambria Automotive, said: “September has been the hardest plate-change I’ve experienced in 24 years in the motor trade.”

However, staff have managed to turn round Cambria’s under-performing businesses in line with the group’s business plan.

Lavery said the group had also reduced average time in stock of used cars down to 24 days to combat falling values.

“Overall, we’ll be there on the business plan and ahead of last year,” he said.

March 2009 comeback

At East Anglian group Dingles, managing director John Dingle said business had been steady at its two small rural dealerships but new car sales at its main Toyota and Subaru showroom in Norwich were down almost a third.

“The next three or four months will be tough, but I think March 2009 may well come back for us. The market we’re in and our brands’ new models will bring a resurgence, because the average age of our customers is late 50s and they still have money to spend.”

September has been “incredibly tough,” said Steve Hodgson, managing director of Hodgson Newcastle, where retail sales have been down by a quarter.

Hodgson said there had been a marked bias towards small cars, where the margins are lower. Nevertheless, Toyota had been supportive with its programmes and targets, he said.

Richard Cort, a Fiat dealer in Bury, said his new car sales were good, led by Fiat 500, Grande Punto and Panda, but used car sales had dropped to almost half those of September 2007.

“We’ve had to dig deep, but I’ll be hacked off if I don’t finish with a healthy profit,” he said.

Dealers were not being helped by finance houses being unwilling to take the slightest risk with approvals, he added.

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