Whilst James Ruppert was taking the political temperature in Parliament, I found myself at the Retail Motor Industry Federation’s annual dinner last night.
Not surprising: last month’s disastrous car sales proved the industry is already in its most serious slump for decades. Some big dealership bosses I spoke to were, in private at least, deeply concerned about the short-term future.
RMIF chairman Paul Williams used his speech to remind politicians – particularly newly-appointed transport minister Jim Fitzpatrick MP, who was perched at Table A – that the motor industry is responsible for some 5.5 per cent of Britain’s GDP. So it needs support.
But the number of individuals I spoke with who expect a Northern Rock-style government bailout if things get really ugly, or who want state cash-injection “like the banks get” to shore-up motor industry jobs was depressing.
Not that everyone's seeing black. Many retailers are working with manufacturers to bring more appropriate cars into their showrooms. It’s small, frugal and fashionable motors that are selling – part of the reason Fiat’s market share has increased dramatically in recent months.
Surprisingly, it was the after-dinner speaker (and former future Prime Minister) Michael Portillo who best delivered a dose of that elusive optimism. He warned of tough times ahead but reminded the hall that personal mobility equals freedom, and that’s something which will always be in demand.