Social media polling may introduce some ‘danger’ that may harbour some home truths
A well-known cherished licence-plates company carried out an online survey recently, reports Iain Robertson, the findings of which could hold some merit for a once-burgeoning UK motor industry that now plays patsy to its largely foreign owners.
Plates4less.co.uk presented a poll as part of its Facebook campaign that targeted men and women, aged over 18 years, possessing an interest in both motor vehicles and politics. It attracted almost 4,000 responses. The company discovered a range of views regarding what might be afflicting the UK’s sometime-flourishing motoring scene. Of course, it is easy to disregard most ‘opinion polls’, as being either responded to by people with vested interests, or by those without the necessary historical knowledge to make logical and reasonable responses.
Naturally, not everyone agreed on the reasons for our motor industry’s decline, many respondents confirming there was a ‘common’ reluctance to purchase new these days, whether it be due to cost, environmental concerns, or a desire to wait for newer, different options. Yet, there was agreement that the issue is a complex one unlikely to be the result of one factor alone. In my view, outright purchase is being overhauled progressively by manufacturer-incentivised and even significantly underwritten ‘lease’ deals. ‘Affordability’ is a key issue but with zero deposit and one-month upfront opportunities available everywhere, consumers are gulled into making acquisition decisions that are not entirely as ‘honest’ as they should be.
• According to 38.5% of the results, new government regulations were reported as the most significant factor. Regulations concerning diesel, for example, means fewer people are buying vehicles relying on such fuel. The truth is, there is no single truth being promoted about fossil fuels, which adds to the confusion. The latest technology applied to cleaning-up diesel’s act (AdBlue and exhaust catalysers) means that latent fears of its pollution potential are largely incorrect. In fact, petrol emissions are significantly more cancer-causing and are the prime reason for Swiss fuel pumps to feature hoods that extract invisible fumes from the refuelling process.
• 14.3% blamed Brexit, with companies moving their operations out of the UK to avoid expensive import tariffs and delays. Personally, I believe this to be a convenient ‘red herring’, because nobody really knows, or comprehends, the implications. Nothing has been decided on. There may be tariffs, additional taxes and delays at points of importation but, somewhere along the line, commercial responsibility will be applied and a ‘new norm’ will be established.
• 7% specified it was the uncertainty surrounding a Brexit deal that was damaging the industry, with expensive contingency plans prepared in case of an unsatisfactory deal. ‘Uncertainty’ from a consumer viewpoint is a major issue, in a field where stability and positive direction are essential. The psychological impact on at least half of our population is sure to rise and fall, with ongoing political debate and media reportage. There is no way to lessen it, until the event and its subsequent planning occurs.
• 11.6% of those taking part in the poll suggested wider global economic issues were responsible as other countries within the EU are also suffering poor sales. This highlights a genuine problem but, as the UK motoring scene has always worked to different parameters, it is not as indicative as is being suggested. Over the years, the UK market has been treated as a ‘clearing house’ by some carmakers’ UK representatives. It is worth highlighting that we have an uniquely buoyant used car trade that places values (some too high and unrealistic, often created by demand) on previously-owned stocks. UK new vehicles have invariably carried higher profitability to their manufacturers, as can be reflected in new car prices, often far greater than in other markets.
• 9.4% claimed that cars last longer now, so there is less of a need to replace them, thus less demand. Ironically, the consumer demand for durability and longevity will always be overtaken by cyclical model replacements and a desire to ‘own’ the latest version. It is one of the reasons that we have three cyclical, new car registration peaks in the UK; January 1st and the months of both March and September, which used to be just two (January and August), before Blair’s government factored-in the ‘01’ and ‘51’ plating system.
• 18.3% selected ‘other’ as their answer, with many noting the development of electric cars as a factor affecting the sales of petrol and diesel vehicles. This is a virtual irrelevance, when less than 1% of the total UK new car market is populated by EVs, despite continual browbeating by government. High EV unit costs and low availability of renewable resources are significant aspects to be dealt with, not just by the consumer. The change will occur, of that there is no doubt, mainly due to ecological and environmental pressures, but it will continue at a slow ebb until both recharging infrastructure and speedier recharging are developed. Reducing high retail prices, not just for the vehicles but also for the electricity (and its non-fossil fuel sources) will affect the changeover rate.
• Less than 1% stated they did not know what might be affecting the UK’s motor industry.
There was also a great deal of conversation within the Facebook thread, with other possibilities suggested and discussed, some of it rather passionately! However, the basic truth lies at the door of British management malaise. Hammered by takeovers and, in many cases, foreign political issues (such as Renault and PSA Groups having French governmental stakes; the on-going subterfuge by Chinese carmakers snaffling-up their rivals in other markets; the strong federal pressures placed on German carmakers and so on), it should come as no surprise that politics and vehicle manufacturing are convenient bed-partners.
Politicians love to talk-up a potentially good story, especially when it has employment and technological implications. Motor manufacturers lap-up the support they receive from governments and then milk it to death. However, what needs to be reflected upon is not the superficiality of this discussion but the painful truths attached to inherent British attitudes, which do afflict its management of a once vital industry. In many ways, departing the socialist construct that is the largely non-democratic EU, has the real significance of allowing us to restart much of our once treasured industries and provide a chance to prove our nation’s true capabilities. If we all knuckle down to that aspect, a fresher status quo will arise.
Conclusion: With innumerable changes taking place around the motor industry, dealing with an independent vehicle supplier, perhaps one that is not brand-dependent and that can absorb the worst bumps most proficiently, has to be the preferred option! Start looking now.