Fleet News

Dealers shake off old Arthur Daley image

THE motor trade, and dealers in particular, have never been loved by the public. Since the day the car first took to the roads, there seems always to have been a lack of trust between all parties.

Of course, there have always been offenders on both sides – let's not forget the stunts pulled by customers every day.

The trade has made massive strides in recent years to clean up its act but lack of public confidence is constantly reinforced by word of mouth and a media that loves to pigeon-hole people.

Arthur Daley was a godsend to the media and the name is still a millstone around the neck of the car retail industry. But it is a fact, according to Trading Standards, that the motor trade still suffers the largest number of consumer complaints.

Now a pilot scheme has been launched in some areas between Trading Standards and garages.

Dubbed the Trading Standard Partnership, this scheme ensures all dealers who have been vetted, audited and liaise regularly with the trading standards authorities, receive a certificate in recognition.

The idea is that this should reward 'good' dealers by instilling public confidence in them. If there is a dispute between customer and garage, for whatever reason, that cannot be sorted out mutually then local Trading Standards officers can be called out to listen and mediate.

Both sides are expected to comply with any recommendation and this should serve to diffuse the situation. One used car dealer I spoke to last week has been in the scheme for three months and his disputes have thinned down to zero. And he is attracting more business on the back of his certificate.

The truly positive thing here is that differences of opinion are no longer adjudicated by the great jury in the pub, which always finds the dealer guilty. He is also more focused on customers' needs and he knows that if all else fails he will get a fair hearing from the Trading Standards people. Parallel imports: was it really all worth it?

I HAVE been speaking to dealers who have been involved in parallel imports for some time for whom the realisation has dawned that the cars are not that cheap and not really worth all the effort.

UK and European prices are now close enough to minimise the financial benefits and make taking the risks of fluctuations in the pound against the euro far less attractive. They are now looking back and asking themselves whether it was ever really worth the effort at all, given the low profits involved.

There are dealers still buying from Europe and still making a bit of money but the difference is in the type of car being imported.

The more expensive ones can still offer significant savings but, more importantly, they are often models that are difficult to get in the UK.

So how come they are easy to buy in Europe, but have long waiting lists here? Some countries in Europe have not been having such a good time with new car sales and are failing to meet their annual targets.

They realise that production can be changed from left-hand drive to right-hand drive reasonably easily, so they are switching their allocation accordingly.

So there are desirable UK-spec cars in the pipeline for UK buyers eager to reduce waiting times, and the European dealers can fulfil their contracts with the factories to sell their allocation. Everybody wins, except UK franchise dealers.

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