Car trade's misery immeasurable

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THE MOTOR industry spent yesterday wrestling with a multiple- choice question: in the first 10 days of August, did sales of K-reg cars a) fall 1.8 per cent; b) rise 4 per cent; or c) rise 1.9 per cent?

The answer is: they did all three, because in the peculiar world of new car sales 10 days is not always what it seems - it might actually be only nine days, or, alternatively, just eight.

Confused? Then so were car makers, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre in Swansea.

Because August accounts for up to a quarter of the year's total sales, the 10-day figures are awaited with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation.

August 1992 is, however, causing ructions because it contains too many Sundays and, even in these straitened times, car dealers rest on the seventh day. To make matters worse, the DVLC clocks off for the entire weekend.

Hence the multiple reply to the multiple choice question. Those who plumped for a 1.8 per cent fall cribbed the answer from the SMMT's 10-day report, which records sales this August of 223,283, compared with 227,437 at the same stage last year.

Although called a 10-day report, it actually covers only those registrations that the overworked souls in the DVLC have been able to crunch through the Swansea computer. This year they have managed to process only eight 'selling' days, while at the same stage last year they had processed nine.

Those who ticked a rise of 4 per cent have noticed that so far this August there have been two Sundays compared with one last year. Thus, a comparison of the first eight processing days shows that sales rose from 214,582 last year to 223,283 this year.

Those who came up with a 1.9 per cent rise in sales compared the first nine 'selling' days of last August with the eight-day figure for this August and then tacked on the DVLC's estimate of how many cars it would register on day nine. This produces an increase in sales from 227,437 to 231,839.

'Technically, everybody is right,' pronounced a spokeswoman at Rover after mulling over the discrepancies for a few hours. 'What this demonstrates is the difficulty of trying to calculate sales for only part of the month.'

What it also demonstrates is that August will not be the bonanza the industry dreamed of. It is less a question of sales going up or down but more one of whether they will be just plain bad, very bad or catastrophic.

A spokesman for Vauxhall put a braver face on the figures, saying: 'At least the trend is in the right direction.' But that, of course, depends on which trend you care to pick.