The open secret?

  08 October 2012

The question of forced registrations has always been one of the worst kept secrets in the auto retail industry but suddenly, it seems, everybody is talking about it.

Since Vertu Motors drew attention to the issue in a City trading statement back in July, there have been more confessions of guilt than a typical episode of the Jeremy Kyle show.

At the Paris Motor Show, senior carmaker executives who would normally be reticent to even hint about the subject privately were openly discussing it with journalists.

Former Ford UK boss, Roelant de Waard, who is now a vice-president in Ford Europe, told colleagues at Automotive News that self-registration was one of the “realities” of the industry.

From Vauxhall, Duncan Aldred told us that forced registration activity was likely to increase, while new Audi UK boss, Martin Sander admitted: “We are involved to some degree. We are part of the market and we can’t step away from it”.

Of course, every carmaker tries to tell you that they are limiting the numbers and it’s their rivals who are guilty of excess – but you soon learn to take that with a pinch of salt. John Leach, head of automotive at KPMG, reckons that UK new car sales figures for the year are approximately 5% overstated by pre-registrations with the final quarter still to come.

Confession may be good for the soul but there are political forces at work here too. The very real possibility of major factory closures in continental Europe is exercising the minds of politicians and carmaker CEOs.

Signs saying ‘Fabrique en France’ (made in France) were plastered all over displays at Paris and, later this week, European carmakers will step up the pressure for political and financial help with the “crisis” of overproduction. All of which goes some way towards explaining why our worst-kept secret has suddenly become an open secret in the corridors of power.

And don’t expect the problem to go away. Senior French directors of Peugeot-Citroen were in the UK on Thursday talking to retailers; they made it quite clear that the UK market is targeted for growth and they’re prepared to spend heavily to achieve it.

Rupert Saunders

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