Fleet News

Semi-auto boxes prove a hard sell

'ONE of the latest technological trends now seeping into the used car market is the semi-automatic gearbox. With this comes a whole raft of new names which are tending to confuse many in the trade. Among these are Sensotronic, Tipshift, Tiptronic, Geartronic, Easytronic, Selespeed, SMG, DSG and Durashift.

To add to the confusion there are even some clutchless manuals around but the rule of thumb is that, whatever their names, they are automatics according to the official Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency definition.

There is plenty of demand for some of these boxes but this does tend to be limited to the higher-end brands where the preference for automatics over manuals is already well-established.

It is at the lower end of the market where there are some question marks over desirability and we are seeing some instances where the semi-auto version can make less than the equivalent manual. The problem seems to be that demand for this kind of technology is greater in the new market than the used and this can lead to a build-up of certain models where the trade feels uncertain for any reason.

The semi-auto is still a relatively new concept in the motoring world and will therefore take a little time to become widely accepted throughout the market. Here, the old auto buyers still tend to prefer what they are familiar with, despite the fact that a semi-auto may be more reliable, have better fuel consumption and offer a full automatic mode that feels no different from what they already know.

Selling this new concept to them is really the job of the salesperson because it is those that I have been speaking to who have the experience of negative customer perception. As for those salespeople who themselves have a negative attitude towards semi-autos, then they will simply miss out on fresh opportunities.

Rover and Fiat celebrate

Two manufacturers celebrated production milestones last week – both relating to the five million mark. In Slough I viewed the significantly facelifted Fiat Punto, with a new front end and a much improved interior, along with many other new features.

The new range has been expanded, although it could be argued that there are now so many models it has become a little over-complicated. Choice is obviously desirable but the variety of models should always be made explicit with a clear badging policy, otherwise the trade becomes confused when they reach the used market.

The current Punto has been on the market for almost 10 years, with a grand total of five million produced. Rover also produced its five millionth car, at least badged as a Rover, last week – after 99 years of production. Out of idle curiosity I then calculated that all the Rovers and Puntos ever produced, laid end to end, would form a car park of 27 rows, stretching between Longbridge and Turin.

On the question of disposals the dominant Punto – 1.2 Active – currently sits at a price level that is seen as good value and therefore moves on quite easily. Of the current crop of Rovers small models are the ones to have, with the 25 proving a safe disposals bet. Of those the cream of the crop is 1.4 iL (101bhp).'

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