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Audi tops NFDA dealer survey as concerns grow over margins

Almost all the UK’s franchised retailers believe manufacturer control will increase over the next 12 months, according to the latest National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA) dealer attitude survey.

Only three of the 32 networks surveyed do not see this as a cause of "a great deal of apprehension", according to NFDA director Sue Robinson.

"Uncertainties over the future of Block Exemption and the economic climate are also having a negative impact on the car dealer/manufacturer relationship," she added.

That said, added Robinson, seven in ten dealers are "very happy" in their relationship with their manufacturers, and six in 10 judge manufacturer requirements to be "fair to dealerships".

The NFDA survey suggests that fears of rising manufacturer influence are increasing, with only the Suzuki, Daihatsu and Proton networks recording a rating below the 3.0 average mark.

Dealers with these concerns include those representing BMW (top of the worry list), Volkswagen (11 places higher than last summer), Alfa Romeo, Honda and Mazda.

Tony Roberts, managing director of Magna Motor Group on the south coast, said dealer worries about carmaker control need to be put into perspective. His franchises include Mazda.

"The NFDA survey is sometimes skewed by dealers in a way that is unrepresentative," said Roberts. "The findings are influenced by new product when nothing else has changed.

"It’s true that Mazda is increasing control and introducing new standards. But those are fair, given the rise in sales, and the brand’s progress – some dealers without other franchises react badly to it."

Five in six networks believe their average retained margin on sales of new cars (including bonuses and rebates) has fallen since last spring.

Jaguar dealers appear among the most concerned, and dissatisfaction was indicated by Alfa Romeo, Ford, Mazda, Mini, Proton, Skoda, Toyota and Volkswagen dealers.

Two in three networks were happy about the way senior managers listened to their view before making decisions affecting retailers.

Those indicating some level of dissatisfaction were Chrysler Jeep Dodge (falling to last place), Volkswagen, Ford, Hyundai, Audi, Fiat, Mitsubishi and Skoda.

Dougal Keith, whose business DM Keith of Leeds has four Skoda outlets, said: "The survey’s findings are based on the views of those who have the time to respond, and many Skoda dealers have no experience with other manufacturers.

"Skoda bravely communicated a target of a 1.8% retained margin but we can’t blame the manufacturer for today’s tougher market. My margin is down on a year ago but our profits are higher because we’re selling more cars."

The NFDA survey’s main list is 'value of the franchise', with dealers asked to rate one against all others. The most startling finding is Chrysler Jeep Dodge’s disastrous score of 1.8 (30th and 31st places are held jointly by Subaru – rising from bottom place last summer – and Renault, each with 4.2).

Louise Woods, who manages the NFDA survey, said some caution was necessary because Chrysler Jeep's response was the lowest – only five of 86 dealers, just under 6% of the network. There is no minimum response for inclusion.

"The survey was conducted in January and Chrysler Jeep Dodge’s performance would probably be stronger now because of the return of Simon Elliott to head the UK operations." (See: Elliott targets dealer profits as top priority - page 20).

At the base of the list Peugeot has slipped to 29th though Renault has dropped to last but one, despite the launch of the new Laguna. Volvo has risen from 30th to 25th.

At the top of the table Audi, AM's carmaker of the year reigns supreme, again recording a score of 9.5, with Mini (8.4) climbing from third to second dislodging Toyota, which drops to sixth. Land Rover makes a significant advance from sixth to third, with Mercedes-Benz progressing from ninth to sixth.

Network views about carmakers’ marketing support is mixed: 47% of networks were less positive than last time but 72% recorded a score on or above the line indicating some satisfaction.

Chrysler Jeep Dodge plunged to the bottom and Subaru and Volvo are low in the list despite recording improvements. Discontent was indicated by dealers representing Alfa Romeo, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Mitsubishi and Toyota dealers.

Audi dealers are happiest about manufacturer incentive programmes but overall the NFDA found there was a decrease – those with Chrysler Jeep Dodge franchises descended the table with their lowest recorded score on the question, and Subaru remains at the bottom, although there was some improvement.

Networks feeling more pessimistic were Chevrolet, Ford, Proton, Saab, Toyota and Skoda.

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