British cars are the dearest in Europe

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The Independent Online
BRITISH motorists are getting a raw deal from car makers despite the strength of sterling according to new survey which shows the UK is still the most expensive place in Europe to buy a car.

And although Europe is supposed to be a single market Britons still face overwhelming obstacles to shopping around for bargains on the continent. Dealers are either flouting their obligation to supply right-hand drive models or are simply refusing to sell to foreigners, the European Commission found.

For 61 of the 72 best-selling models covered by the study prices in the UK were highest. The biggest difference was on a Volkswagen Polo which costs around 30 per cent more than in most other EU countries and 54 per cent more than in Portugal.

The strength of sterling ought to have driven car prices down the commission said, yet it found that most car-makers have not only failed to cut prices in Britain in response to the rise in sterling but have raised them to cash in on windfall profits.

The cheapest cars according to he study are to be had in the Netherlands and Portugal, and the difference between prices in these countries and those at the other end of the scale is widening, said the commission - which carries out checks every six months.

British car prices are highest the study shows for luxury, medium and small cars alike. A top of the range BMW 316 i for example costs 22 per cent more in Britain than across the channel in Belgium or 30 per cent more than in Holland. The differential also applies for small cars: the gap in price between a Toyota Starlet in Belgium or Luxembourg and in Britain is over 40 per cent.

Brussels recently declared war on Volkswagen which after a lengthy investigation was found to be illegally preventing German citizens from buying cheaper cars from Italian dealers. VW was hit with the biggest fine ever imposed on a company by the EU but the latest survey confirms suspicions that such practices as well as price-fixing are widespread in the industry.

The commission said it was receiving "continual complaints" from British consumers who want to buy abroad to save money but find it impossible to order right-hand drive models. Yesterday, it warned manufacturers that right-hand drives must be available throughout the EU to dealers who want to sell them and warned it would take legal enforcement action.

Ursula Pachl of the European Consumers' Organisation said Volkswagen- style tactics were the main obstacle for British motorists hunting for cheaper cars on the continent. "Dealers will either tell you they cannot supply a right-hand drive model, or that the delivery time will be excessive or they will just refuse to sell you a car".

Under the EU's single market rules, consumers have a right to buy a car anywhere in the bloc and import it into their own country. But administrative and bureaucratic obstacles are still hampering what the commission calls "parallel trade".

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