01 July 1998

TRADITIONALLY the bell-wether month for UK car sales, August is also the month in which certain manufacturers engage in the ancient rite of massaging the figures to ensure the most favourable gloss. Car industry mouthpiece the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders claims the second best monthly figures ever for last month - just 3.8% below 1997’s record-breaking total. But Mitsubishi Motors asserts the true figure to be 30% down on 1997, alleging that some manufacturers went on a last minute spree to register their unsold cars en masse. Hands aloft in pious denial, the SMMT refutes the accusation. However, five of the six heaviest days for registrations were at the end of the month. On the last two sales days, it is understood that Ford and Renault between them accounted for over 70% of all registrations on those days. Roger King, for the SMMT, insists the number of eleventh-hour registrations were 'relatively small in terms of the total for the month'. He also dismissed accusations that sales were down because UK car prices are significantly higher than elsewhere in the EU. In the best traditions of John Bull, King avers it is the Europeans who are out of step: 'It’s not that prices here are too high but that prices in Europe are too low.'