Dealers run out of R-reg cars as sales hit record

Building society windfalls and the post-election surge in consumer confidence look set to push new car sales this month to a record of more than 500,000, beating the previouspeak set in 1989.

But customers hoping to take delivery of some R-registration models this month could be disappointed.

Dealers yesterday reported that stockpiles of some ranges, including Audi and BMW, had already run out. Other models in short supply were the Peugeot 406 range and the evergreen Mazda MX5 sports cars.

An Audi spokeswoman predicted 7,500 registrations this month, a 7 per cent rise from last year: "We are a demand-led company and supply constrained. You might be able to walk into the odd dealer and still get an Audi for August, but most of our allocation has already gone."

Martin Austin, managing director of Corby Motors, a large Northampton- based dealer chain, said that in each dealership at least one model range had sold out: "It is partly because manufacturers have cut production rather too far and have been slightly caught out."

Car market experts yesterday forecast sales would rise 9 per cent over August last year from 479,407 to 520,000. The only time sales have broken through the 500,000 barrier was during the last boom in 1989, with 500,112 registrations.

Despite the predicted improvement this month, sales for 1997 as a whole are still unlikely to match the record of 2.3 million set eight years ago.

Jay Nagley, from consultancy group Quadrangle, explained: "This August will heavily depend on what targets Ford and Vauxhall set themselves, because they have tended to let their market share drop. But with all the building society windfalls people have received we would be a bit disappointed if this wasn't a record month."

But Lex, one of the largest dealerships, said most windfall money was going on used cars: "People are spending the cash in the used car market which is pushing used values up generally. This in turn has enabled other consumers to trade up and buy new."

Dealers also pointed to increasing economic optimism driving the top end of the car market. Stratstone, a Porsche, Aston Martin and Ferrari dealership in the Cheshire commuter belt, reported a 20 per cent rise in pre-booked R-registration sales.

The 44 cars due for delivery this month, 36 of which were Porsches, cost pounds 3.3m.

Long-term market trends also pointed to a bumper August. Since the 1980s, August has taken a steadily larger share of annual registrations, much to the despair of the car makers.

August 1988 represented 21.5 per cent of the year's sales, whereas by 1995 it had risen to 24.1 per cent.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders recently urged the new Government to adopt a twice-yearly number-plate change to smooth sales volumes.

If the plan goes ahead, this August frenzy would be the last.