This is never a good time for disposals teams because, such is the drop-off in showroom activity that the larger dealer groups tend to send their buyers home early for Christmas.
This week I am reporting on dealer research because they are at the sharp-end of the retail demand that ultimately dictates the fate of cars on your fleet.
Our research, leading up to Christmas, revealed that the vast majority of traders and dealers have high expectations for the used car market in the early part of 2004. They are not wrong-footed by the lack of retail demand and the fact that this time around they have kept the Christmas lull in perspective is a good sign of positive things to come.
The first sign of their determination to get back into the swing of business will be advertising – especially on local independent radio – as the big players vie to jump-start the market by getting people through the doors as early as Boxing Day. Once the retail customers have returned, it will be imperative for those empty forecourt spaces to be filled again to maintain momentum. This means disposers should be poised to put well-prepared cars into the marketplace as early in the new year as possible.
My own research, together with that of colleagues, reveals where some of the best opportunities lie for fleet disposers in the form of 'most wanted' cars.
A common thread, whether they are franchised or independent dealers, is a desire for high specification and low mileage. Given that many contracts were extended this year, rarity is something of a driving force here so it is no surprise when cars that fit the bill are snapped up at 'Book' money or even stronger, if there is a guaranteed retail buyer lined up for a particular car.
In terms of other dealer wish lists, Corsa 1.0 and 1.2 are the best retail supermini proposition for Vauxhall dealers, while the best 1.2 derivative is the SXi spec. Again, SXi spec is favoured on Vectra because of the excellent value for money it represents.
Ford dealers are tending not to go for late-plate Mondeo except through Ford Direct, thanks to the bonuses they attract, but if they can get them cheaply it's a lot of car for the money – not that disposers will want to meet this particular requirement. Research reveals that Fiesta Finesse can be a little slow to sell and dealers' preferences are for LX and Zetec.
Focus Zetec is a real success story and fleets with these should be able to get maximum disposals success. In a way inconceivable in the days of the Escort, five-year-old cars are still being sourced at £4,000. This surely makes Focus one of the most successful performers for fleets for a long time and shows that disposers should achieve very strong returns for well-prepared examples.
Peugeot dealers will be hunting down any 106 GTi they can find, while 206 LX is considered the safest bet for a quick retail sale thanks to a high level of standard equipment. Unfortunately for the fleet disposer, research reveals that 406 is sufficiently slow as a retail car for good part-exchanges to satisfy most dealers' demand for fresh stock.
For Toyota dealers, there is a strong preference among many for the last of the old model Avensis, although sat-nav and climate control are strongly favoured.
The mood of the trade market is positive. Many fleets have made strides towards protecting residuals in 2003 by reducing sudden influxes of supply to the market and all of this points towards a successful 2004.'