Fleet News

Dutch market prepares for car wars

THE Dutch car market looks like becoming very heated this autumn. The primary reason is the introduction of new European emission regulations, Euro III, as of January 1, 2001.

A number of importers still have large stocks of cars that do not meet these new standards, and whatever happens, these will need to be registered before December 31, even if they have not found buyers.

The problem has arisen because manufacturers wait as long as possible before introducing technical improvements into existing production processes, and continue to build cars that meet current emission legislation for as long as they can reasonably do so.

Importers that are able to achieve their sales targets generally face few problems. But, as always, there have been winners and losers in the market place during the first six months of 2000. A total of 370,766 new passenger cars were sold in the period to June 30, a fall of 1.5% compared with the same period in 1999.

But among the brands themselves, the differences are far more dramatic. Alfa Romeo, Daewoo, Daihatsu, Opel, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Renault, Rover, Subaru, Suzuki and Volvo experienced shortfalls that ranged from large to very large. They presumably therefore still have well stocked vehicle storage areas.

In the past 10 years, about 60% of annual sales have been made during the first half-year. Many buyers stick with tradition and take delivery of their new cars in the first quarter. Since 1991, 29–35% of new cars are delivered during the first three months, compared to 16–21% in the last three.

The RAI, the umbrella organisation that represents all the importers, anticipates a total car market this year of about 600,000 units. In other words, some 230,000 still need to be sold. A number of brands will have to work hard during the remainder of the year to make good the shortfall experienced during the first half-year. But in the highly competitive Dutch market, there is only one way to achieve this - and that is to cut prices.

This should be clearly evident by mid-September if the importers are to swell sales to new and dizzy heights in October and November. If cars that fail to meet Euro III emission regulations are not sold by December 31, they will have to be registered in large numbers by the distributors themselves.

This will prove enormously expensive, but the vehicles can otherwise no longer be legally sold as new in the market place.

The shuffling of stock by manufacturers could help to ease the situation somewhat.

It is however inevitable that the battle will be fought on the basis of extra discounts and 'free' added accessories. A wonderful opportunity for the car buying public to negotiate a good deal.

  • Henri Stolwijk is a leading Dutch motoring journalist. (August 2000)
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