Comment: Scottish car sales put Europeans in the shade

Scott Reid
Scott Reid
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IF THE sales of new cars is an indicator of the health of the economy then things are surely looking up. More than 36,000 motors rolled out of Scottish showrooms last month, marking a 15.3 per cent rise on a year earlier.

Among the fleet of 62-platers were ten Bentleys, seven Aston Martins and five Ferraris. Not bad going amid the worst recession in 60 years.

There’s a fair chance some of that automotive exotica found its way to the North-east, where a booming energy sector has led to Aberdeen becoming a car-spotter’s dream. Across much of the country, it was the usual steady flow of Astras, Corsas and Fiestas.

September is always a key month for the industry as it marks the twice-yearly change in vehicle registration plates. A surge in sales had been predicted but a breakdown of yesterday’s data paints an encouraging picture.

In the year to September, sales north of the Border are up by more than 9 per cent with industry leaders forecasting a 10 per cent gain by the end of 2012. Across the UK as a whole, the increase to date is a more muted 4.3 per cent.

The figures will surprise those who issued dire warnings of a sales reversal amid a tightening of the purse strings by consumers and businesses alike. Among the latter group, fleet sales have remained resilient.

There were also concerns that the ending of the car scrappage scheme would dent trade. Those fears appear now to have been allayed. New car registrations have grown every month bar one this year, and the September volumes came in ahead of forecasts.

Compare the situation here, then, with the car crash that is the eurozone. During August – the last month for which a full set of comparable figures is available – sales in France fell 11 per cent, Italy was down by 20 per cent and Greece plunged 47 per cent. Even powerhouse EU economy Germany, which accounts for one in three car sales across the region, recorded a near-5 per cent decline.

Clearly, car sales are closely allied to consumer confidence. Few people are going to splash out thousands, possibly tens of thousands, if they feel their job is on the line. That reticence to purchase “big-ticket” items has had some impact closer to home. While ahead of the European pack, the UK car market remains shy of pre-recession levels.

Industry experts talk of a “tentative return of consumer confidence” and point to strong interest in the latest fuel-efficient technologies – hardly surprising with petrol and diesel prices so high.

Analysts highlight the bumpy road ahead with sticky inflation and job worries constraining purchasing power.

It will probably take some time yet before sales match those pre-recession highs and the special offers, zero per cent credit deals and trade-in discounts can be packed away. For the time being, it’s very much a buyers’ market out there.

And there’s good news on two wheels as well

THe British success in the Tour de France and Olympics from the likes of Bradley Wiggins and Sir Chris Hoy was something for the nation’s cyclists – and non-cyclists – to cheer about.

That euphoria appears to have driven a sales rebound at high street stalwart Halfords, which yesterday revealed a 4.6 per cent increase in its latest trading period, reversing a 7.5 per cent drop in the first quarter.

Brace yourself for more lycra on those crowded city streets.