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SMMT data ‘didn’t tell the right story’, says Vertu CEO Robert Forrester

Robert Forrester, Vertu Motors chief executive

Vertu Motors chief executive Robert Forrester has said that the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders' (SMMT) June registrations data “didn’t tell the right story”, insisting that the reality was far more positive.

In an interview with Auto Trader chief operating officer, Catherine Faiers, this week, Forrester reflected on the group’s return to showroom trading in June and suggested that the outlook was far more optimistic than the SMMT had suggested.

"This is not a recovery and barely a restart," warned SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes as its data showed 145, 377 new cars were registered in June, the first month out of lockdown for car showrooms in England and Northern Ireland.

But Forrester said: “The SMMT numbers, which came out this week didn’t really tell the whole story. In fact, they didn’t even tell the right story.

“The reason the market was down on retail, was that there was no appetite either from the manufacturers or from retailers, to undertake the normal end of quarter pre-registration activity.

“I wouldn’t say there is a chronic shortage of new cars because there isn’t, but there is an element of tightness compared to normal, which means why would the manufacturers want to go and shift a load of volume at discount into the networks, when I just don’t think that’s their modus operandi and quite rightly.

“We saw the month end push did not take place as normal and that’s why the SMMT numbers were down, so I think it gave a very negative view of the market compared to the reality.”

Forrester said that Vertu had seen a 50% increase year-on-year in phone enquiries from customers last month, which put the business “under some pressure to actually answer” its volume of enquiries.

Vertu begun recrutiing for its Gateshead contact centre at the start of this month.

He said that the back-end of June brought an increase in walk-in customers too, adding: “We might be starting to see the semblance of normal consumer behaviour.” 

In his conversation with Faiers, Forrester also expressed optimism that that customer demand for cheaper used cars would be generated as increasing number of people returned to work in a climate where they were cautious about using public transport.

He cited Auto Trader surveys which suggested 56% of people with UK driving licences that didn’t have a car, were thinking about buying one, and also suggested that families looking to embark on a UK-based holiday in the near future may also want to invest in reliable transport.

Scotland is also showing strong signs that its dealerships are benefitting from the pent-up demand reported by car retailers in England after their showrooms’ June reopenings, Forrester said.

“My biggest selling used car dealership in July so far is Glasgow Central Nissan, the Scottish dealerships are doing well and we’re seeing that pent up demand come through there in Scotland,” he said. 

“But you can’t really predict what’s going to happen. We’re definitely in a pent-up demand phase for me, the question then is, what happens in Q4?”

Forrester acknowledged that Q4 would present the market’s biggest challenge, with pressure on cashflow and the push towards a recovery.

He said: “Everyone has seen the list of redundancies; people don’t really know how the furlough is going to unwind and what economic damage under the super structure of the economy has actually been done. And the time it will come, if it comes, will be Q4.”

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