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Car manufacturers won't boost fleet volumes to fight new car market drop

Carmakers have rejected claims that they will focus on tempting fleet buyers - who typically take more than 50% of the new car market - to pick up the fall in sales when scrappage ends.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) had said new car sales to fleets will be crucial post-scrappage. The BVRLA, which represents the country’s lease and rental companies, also said it expected its members to be wooed by carmakers desperate to shift stock as private buyers moved away from the new car market.

However, it appears carmakers have other ideas. The biggest player in the fleet market – Ford – said it will announce its post-scrappage sales strategy at the end of March but expects to maintain its current sales split.

“Ford's retail/fleet split has been stable over the last 12 months at 36% retail/64% fleet,” explained a Ford spokesman.

“This is expected to continue in 2010 given our new offers, attractive to retail customers who traditionally favour small and medium cars.

New Ford large cars coming this year, which are more popular with corporate customers, will offset any strong move away from our current overall 36/64 split.”

Others manufacturers also say they intend to maintain the proportional split of new car sales post-scrappage.

For example, in 2009 Audi’s sales split was 42% retail and 58% fleet; Vauxhall’s was 41% retail and 59% fleet; and Volkswagen’s was 45% retail and 55% fleet. All three expect these to stay the same during 2010.

A Vauxhall spokesman said its focus post-scrappage would remain in the retail sector with its Swappage scheme, while Volkswagen, which entered 2010 with a “strong” order book, will continue in the same vein with Golf continuing to be resilient in both the retail and fleet sectors.

However, what has become clear is that more manufacturers are returning to the short-term rental market, which may account for the SMMT’s optimism and the rise in fleet registrations, which were up 24.4% last month compared to January 2009.

But as Robert Kingdom, head of marketing and business development at Masterlease, explains, the return to short-term rental is fraught with danger.

“It looks like a very uncertain market and my fear is that manufacturers will revert to tactical, short-cycle markets to meet inflated sales targets, with the resultant negative impact on the used car market later this year or early into 2011,” he said.

“We have already seen a handful of manufacturers announcing plans to re-enter or increase sales in the daily rental segment, for example. Businesses simply cannot plan effectively against continued volatility in the used car market. There has to be a longer-term strategy above and beyond the rollover lottery of scrappage.”

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