Car industry leaders exaggerating poor sales performance to push for incentives, believe experts

Car industry experts have hit back at a leading trade body’s negativity towards September’s new car registrations, claiming the outlook is actually positive.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) today revealed just 328,000 cars were registered last month, down 4.4 per cent on the same month last year.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes pointed to the fact last month was the ‘poorest September since the two-plate system was introduced in 1999’, adding: “Unless the pandemic is controlled and economy-wide consumer and business confidence rebuilt, the short-term future looks very challenging indeed.”

However, industry experts believe the figures were actually positive for the motor trade and believe they have been positioned negatively to help the SMMT make a case for new car sales incentives.

James Baggott, founder of Car Dealer Magazine, said: “While overall sales may be down, it’s not bad news at all.

“Dealers are selling more cars to retail buyers and not self registering cars to hit ridiculous targets set by manufacturers fighting for position in a pointless league table.

“Dealers I have spoken to are very happy with September and many hit targets by the middle of the month. Many have pushed sales into the next quarter, which they have some concerns about, so it’s a case of banking some deals.

“There’s also a reason the registrations have been positioned by the SMMT as bad news – and that’s because they are hoping the government will step in and provide some sort of incentives for car buyers.”

Green number plates
Green number plates

Meanwhile, Mike Jones, chairman of car industry advisor ASE Global, told Car Dealer Magazine: “The tone from the SMMT is quite negative – it’s like it’s building up for a begging bowl request.

“The SMMT are really highlighting some of the negatives here – the lowest ever September registrations since 1999.

“Yes, September is down, but if we go back to 2010 and 2011, September 2020 was only slightly down on then.”

Jones added that the drop was ‘all in business which, in the nicest possible way, is a drop in pre-registration’. This is when dealers register a car to themselves to achieve sales targets before selling them on as used stock.

“On a general level, it appears the SMMT tally wants to make a hit with this and go to government saying we need some support,” Jones added.

Jim Holder, What Car? editorial director, said “The negativity surrounding these figures is misleading,’ he said.

“Almost every retailer and the majority of manufacturers are reporting an exceptionally strong month, and most crucially a profitable one as they match supply and demand, opt out of unprofitable pre-reg and build a pipeline for the future months.

“Unquestionably there is potential for an exceptionally hard time ahead as the health crisis continues, but what we see here is figures that are likely closer than ever to the true level of demand.”