We’re looking at more of the same, I’m afraid. Shorn of the scrappage schemes that have buoyed them this year, new car sellers will battle for business in 2010, but at least they’re configured for the fight in the sense that they know full well that volumes will be low, and they don’t have the stockpiles of unsold vehicles they had to contend with a year ago.
Despite the departure of scrappage, buyers can expect dealers to offer scrappage-like price packages on new cars — but even these won’t deliver true cut-price deals. UK list prices of Fords, Vauxhalls and most other mainstreamers have been hiked considerably through 2009, because sterling has declined sharply against the currencies (principally the euro, dollar and yen) in which cars are made, so discounts will merely offset price hikes.
An increasing number of car makers (notably Citroen with the soon-to-arrive DS3) will learn from the success of “emotional” models like the Mini and Fiat 500. They will see this ever-greater emphasis on making cars desirable by design as the way of continuing to sell conventionally engineered models, until a clear way towards hybrids and battery EVs emerges.
On that front, we can expect a continuance of naïve UK governmental hype about electric cars, though there are faint signs that our legislators are starting to understyand that a) today’s petrol hybrids are only marginally more frugal than the very latest “efficiency” engines, and b) that pure battery vehicles can never solve more than a minority of our transport problems. EVs in Britain won’t do well until the promised buyer’s subsidy of up to £5000 a throw, currently scheduled for 2012, is delivered.
Used car prices are already much higher than they were a year ago, so the “nearly new” route isn’t as attractive to car buyers as it was, but careful research can still flush out bargains, especially among lower-priced performance and sports cars. You can buy a fit, low mileage Porsche 996 or a Honda S2000 very cheaply, and the same goes for a mid-2000s Mazda MX-5. Careful research is still worthwhile, as is thinking outside the box.
Not much encouragement for you if you’re in the classic car market, though. Prices have been moving higher for a couple of years, as buyers (urged on by a realisation that their money will earn virtually nothing in the bank) are investing in that car of their dreams - and are having to compete for the best cars with buyers from Europe and the US, for whom cars priced in sterling look cheap.
In short, whether you’re a car maker and seller, or a car buyer, those who are most thoughtful, resourceful and original will be the ones who prosper.