That market was already under pressure anyway, with problems in obtaining the right models with the right specification and potential of warranty issues all working against the market.
However, the picture for grey imports from Japan is very different. In fact, I was so surprised at the numbers involved that I had to re-check the figures before believing them. In 1999, there was a total of 30,000 imports from Japan.
This fell to 25,000 in 2000, dipping further to 20,000 in 2001, before rising in 2002 to just under 30,000.
But the really big surge came last year when, by the end of October, the figure had reached 47,317. The latest figure, according to Richard Moore from the British Independent Motor Trade Association (BIMTA), which looks after the interests of independent vehicle importers, is that numbers will exceed 50,000 for the whole year.
This figure has also been confirmed by official export figures from Japan which reveal that 486,000 were shipped abroad in 2003, with the UK taking around 10%. BIMTA also expects an increase this year.
Among the top sellers are Mitsubishi Pajero, Toyota Hi-Lux, Mitsubishi FTO and the Eunos Roadster. Occasional fears have been voiced about the growth of the grey market and, because it originally provided very cheap cars, it is potentially depressing impact on prices in general.
However, research for the CAP Grey Book shows that despite the large numbers involved, it is a very different market to the standard UK used car parc.
These days, with increased regulatory demands raising costs, it caters mainly for those who want cars that simply aren't otherwise available here. So, despite the rise in popularity of this kind of vehicle, there is no reason to expect a negative impact on 'ordinary' used cars.
Sunroofs consigned to history
The CAP New Vehicle Data database is a seemingly endless source of fascinating facts about the changes in our own car market. For example, I was recalling the days when a sunroof was the height of luxury.
This led me to ponder where the sunroof sits today in the list of must-have options, since the days are now gone when they were fitted as standard. Look around and you may well be surprised to see how few cars have one today. According to CAP New Vehicle Data, of 6,227 new cars currently available, only 860 have a sunroof as standard. It does remain a cost option on 4,734 models however.
The growth of air conditioning lies behind this change and reveals just what impact affordable new technology can have on the used car market. It is not long since the lack of a sunroof was a serious hindrance to a used car sale.
Now it is aircon that, by the day, is becoming less of an aspiration and more of an expectation.'