While most people take daily horoscopes with a pinch of salt and a dose of humour, for CAP Motor Research, peering into the future is a complex, detailed process that it takes very seriously.
As the 'bible' of motor industry pundits including dealers, traders and the contract hire, leasing, finance and banking subsidiaries, CAP's range of products is a key source of information that forms the basis for many fleet vehicle choice lists.
The two most coveted titles used by fleets are CAP Monitor and CAP Black Book. Monitor provides forecast residual values, helping fleets to assess what the value of a vehicle will over a range of age and mileage parameters, whereas Black Book provides a more immediate figure, giving fleets the current market price of a vehicle.
The way CAP predicts what a vehicle will be worth in Monitor is a mystery to many.
However, a visit to CAP's head office in Leeds unveils the wide-ranging and detailed sets of data used to come up with residual value figures.
Statistics from data such as population growth, disposable incomes, the housing market, birth rates and modes of transport all relate back to the likely health or otherwise of the used car market and are used by CAP Monitor for its calculations.
The same three-year/60,000 mile benchmark is used across all models, whether it is a Ford Mondeo or a Fiat Seicento.
'It is just the way the industry works,' said Mark Norman, CAP Monitor's managing editor.
CAP uses a business economist who analyses data submitted by the Government. Budgetary requirements and demographics are trawled, alongside information from bank reports, motor industry financial statistics and economic trends.
This also gives an idea of the desirability of brands, which is analysed by CAP on a monthly basis and in more depth every quarter.
The current economic climate is a good indicator of what will happen in the used car market. Norman explained: 'What affects people's spending power links back to the used car market. In good economic times – for example, when the housing market is doing well – people will buy new cars, borrowing against their assets.'
However, it is the less favourable times that boost the used car market. Norman continued: 'A recession means prestige cars like Jaguars or Mercedes-Benzes and sports cars drop off but cheaper models do better. Hard times can mean good times for the used car market.'
CAP Monitor also assesses how much people are spending on the high street. Comparing graphs on household disposable income and expenditure on cars shows a very similar pattern, according to Norman. Dips in the graph can indicate a drop-off in the market.
'This can then be used to look forward as there are economic warnings,' said Norman.
The actual numbers of people on the high street is also taken into account and population trends gleaned from birth and death records are important.
Looking back at population statistics, there is currently a slump in the number of 25 to 30-year-olds following a depression in the 1970s that led to a decrease in the birth rate. The number of 50 to 60-year-olds is currently at a high, due to a high birth rate following World War II, all which has a knock-on effect on the used car market.
Norman said: 'Among the major buyers of used cars are 25 to 30-year-olds. There are now less of this age bracket in the country and there are more 50 to 60-year-olds. A low number of 25 to 30-year-olds affects the market.
'The market for the over-60s is growing but we need to assess which type of car is growing in popularity. Someone who is retired is unlikely to buy a BMW X5.'
Population statistics also reveal the type of car a typical household is likely to have. One-person households are unlikely to buy large saloons or MPVs, so an increase in single-person living is likely to boost demand for smaller cars.
Norman said: 'A lot of people think new car prices dictate what used car prices are but they don't. It is the desirability of the vehicle that determines the residual value.'
Population trends split into gender statistics are also used to determine residual values. The number of males compared with females holding driving licences is analysed. Currently, 22% more males hold driving licences, mainly due to older females having surrendered or never obtained licences, again affecting the types of used cars purchased.
Public transport statistics are another indicator. CAP Monitor analyses demand for travel on a 10-yearly basis, looking at methods of transport including car, rail, bicycle, bus and walking. The number of people travelling by car surged by 11% between 1990 and 2000, resulting in an increase in demand for used cars. Numbers travelling by bus fell 12% and the distances people walked dropped by 21%.
The means listed provide just a small snapshot of the data used by CAP to generate its three-year/60,000 mile residual value figures, with the quarterly analysis using even more sources of information.
There is, of course, alongside the underlying population and financial analysis, the more traditional collection of facts and figures. CAP's Black Book, which gives the industry the latest used car prices, has a team of four editors receiving daily feeds from auction houses around the country on about 700,000 units a year.
Leasing companies, fleets, franchises, dealers and anyone involved in the industry can offer an opinion, helping form the basis for the book.
Tony Styles, senior editor of CAP Black Book, said: 'You need at least 10 years' experience in the motor industry before you can become a CAP editor. The experience and knowledge you gain of the motor industry is invaluable. We have all bought and sold cars.'
CAP uses the most popular models seen across the industry as a benchmark.
'The vehicles we are likely to see most of at auction, vehicles registered or at dealers, will be used as a benchmark as the most popular model,' Styles added.
Data submitted by the industry includes the number and price of vehicles sold, sale dates and registration order. This is then compared with the live database of figures.
Styles continued: 'Some of the data will be above and some below CAP clean (the average price for a vehicle in good condition). But we don't write all the book based on the data. We also visit auctions, where we catalogue and grade each vehicle as above or below CAP clean and we visit dealers, franchises and non-franchises, conducting visits two or three days a week.'
Once CAP is happy with the figures, a copy of the database is taken monthly and CAP products – including Black Book, the electronic windows system and the Palm Pilot – are produced. The new vehicle registrations department at CAP forms the initial database of statistics, without which the rest of the departments would be unable to work.
Matthew Cuthbert, senior data researcher at the new vehicle registrations department, explained its role: 'It is the starting point for the whole business as we maintain relationships with manufacturers. Data sent to us includes pricing, specification, technical specifications, optional extras, colour and trim. New model information is then placed on to the system.'
How CAP collates and produces its data is a detailed, complex process requiring time, effort and skill. It is constantly under review, with the editors on constant lookout for economic, demographic and world changes. Stock market crashes, September 11 and the war in Iraq all affected the used car market.
CAP editors will be keeping a close eye on interest rate changes and the current uncertainty in the housing market as well as impending economic events such as renewed unrest in the Middle East and retail spending during the forthcoming January sales.