Fleet market drop hits car sales figures

RUSSELL HOTTEN

Economic problems facing the UK motor industry were underlined yesterday with figures showing that new car sales fell last month because of a decline in the fleet market.

Despite some evidence of improved sales in the retail market, the industry doubts whether the rise can be sustained and called for help from next month's budget.

Ford suffered a big drop in market share, as total UK sales fell 3.4 per cent to 140,069 in September against the same period last year, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

The figure took total sales for the year so far to 1,594,166 - just 0.37 per cent ahead of the January-September total in 1994.

Ernie Thompson, SMMT chief executive, said: "There is evidence of some renewed interest in the private sector, but this is offset by a decline in the fleet market."

He added: "Despite suggestions that the August total had been distorted by pulling registrations forward, September looks better than might have been expected. However, the year-to-date total demonstrates that there is little growth in the market overall and this continues to worry both manufacturers and retailers."

Neil Marshall, director at the Retail Motor Federation, believes the small rise in retail sales in September was due to delayed purchases from the annual August registration change, and would not continue.

He said: "The market has stalled in September after a tough August. The Chancellor really must do something to put zip into the market. The fiscal noose around the consumer should be loosened."

Ford saw its market share slip to 18.72 per cent last month, compared to 21.69 per cent in August and an average of 21.52 per cent so far this year.

The company blamed the fall on distortions caused by the August registration change and ending of promotional offers during that month.

Ford had been accused of rushing through thousands of registrations at the end of August to keep up its market share, something which could not be sustained in September. However, the company denied this.

Rover, after a disappointing August, took 13.62 per cent of the market and managed to get both its Rover 100 and 200 models in the top ten sellers' list.

Jaguar also had a good month - selling 728 cars compared with 416 in September 1994.

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