Motoring: Car retailers go into superdrive

Shopping isn't what it used to be. Instead of popping down the local high street to see the butcher, baker and candlestick maker, we simply do a one-stop shop at Tesco. The used car business would rather like it if we did the same. Pile 'em high and sell 'em cheap. James Ruppert finds out if theory matches reality.

Up to now a lot of so-called used car supermarkets have been disappointing places. Quite often cars are parked tightly together, fresh out of the auction ring, or off the company fleet, under-prepared, scantily warranted and often overpriced.

The supermarket image of quality at a competitive price in a pleasant environment has been an illusion. However, there are now two companies determined to change the way we buy used cars.

The Car Group, and its growing The Car Supermarket chain, after recent acquisitions has become the country's largest single retailer of used cars, operating from huge sites in the Midlands and Wales.

Meanwhile, Carland began operating in January from Lakeside Retail Park in Essex with aims to revolutionise the pounds 23bn UK used car market with a chain of indoor car retail superstores.

First stop in our test is Northampton and the Car Supermarket's 10-acre super-site. Car Supermarket claims to have over 800 nearly new (up to two years old) and not so new (two to five years old) cars permanently in stock.

According to the company's chief executive, Peter King: "As with all other areas of supermarket-style retailing, the public wants to be able to choose from the widest range of goods." Fancy a Ford Mondeo? There are several rows of nearly new examples. The same goes for Vauxhall's competing Vectra. Down the scale there are Ford Escorts and Vauxhall Astras by the dozen, right down to Rover 100s, Nissan Micras and Vauxhall Corsas.

Not only is there a big choice, the cars are cheap: pounds 9,000 buys a 16,000- mile 1996 Mondeo 1.8, whereas you could pay pounds 1,000 more at a dealer. Among the prestige cars on offer which, at the time of our visit, included Mercedes and Volvos, a BMW 320i Touring at pounds 20,299 with pounds 4,000 miles on the clock would easily make pounds 22,000 on a BMW forecourt.

The situation should stay that way because the company has recently introduced its Price Pledge. This means that if you can find the same model and specification with a similar mileage, within seven days of purchase and an hour's drive of the Car Supermarket, the company will refund 110 percent of the difference.

Chris Caygill, the company's operations director, says: "Quite simply, we are doing the legwork for the customer. We run exhaustive checks of press advertising and we mystery shop competitors' sites to guarantee our prices are the best and if our research shows the same car is cheaper elsewhere, we adjust the price of all our equivalent stock the same day."

The cars come with a three-month warranty and an AA certificate confirming finance and insurance checks, mileage and previous ownership. Some cars come with two free services and MOT, but you'll have to pay for the road tax.

It's well over an hour's drive from Northampton to Thurrock, so no point in relying on Car Supermarket's Price Pledge. But it wouldn't matter anyway, because Carland are going for the premium-priced, Marks & Spencer approach to used-car retailing. Consequently the 300 cars are well presented in pleasant indoor surroundings.

Like The Car Supermarket, no sales staff will hassle you, but greeters will hand you a map. You can interact with touch-screen terminals to help you identify and then locate the cars that suit your budget or requirements.

The toilets are spotless, babies can be strapped into free pushchairs and potentially fractious youngsters can be deposited in the Cartoonland Games area. There is a cafe.

As for the cars, they are unlocked so you are free to look around, which is even easier because they are parked a sensible distance apart. All the relevant information is on photocopied specification sheets found in the windscreen mounted dispenser.

The cars come with a 30-day exchange or money back guarantee. There is a 150-point RAC inspection, one-year warranty, a year's MOT and one-year driver's insurance. If you want your old car valued, they will even clean it first. But you can't haggle about the prices. This is an all-in, non- negotiable package. Consequently, a Corsa SRi at pounds 7,500 was almost pounds 900 more than a dealer would charge and a Rover 200SLi pounds 500 more.

So why would you expect buyers to visit Carland rather than their local Vauxhall showroom? "I've never heard of someone going to a car dealer for a day out, whereas Carland is an experience for the family", says James Bidwell, marketing director.

You can expect to see more of them, too. Thurrock is the first of 20 projected stores.

Certainly there is a lot that the established motor trade could learn from Carland when it comes to presentation. However, you are paying for the privilege. So if you want a fairly new, low-mileage motor, with plenty of colours and specifications to choose from at a very competitive price, then it would have to be the lower frills offering from The Car Supermarket.

But there is still no substitute for research. The word superstore is no guarantee of good value, and often your local showroom can trounce these huge sites for price and personal service. Even though the future of car retailing is probably the supermarket set-up, the advice is still - shop around.

Carland, Lakeside, Thurrock, 0800 783 3366; The Car Supermarket, Northampton, 0990 289 227.

Suggested Topics
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsSchool leaver's pic YouTube video features staging of a playground gun massacre
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Robyn Lawley
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

    Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

    Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

    Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

    £50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain