When we return to ‘normal’, go buy that 4×4 you always promised yourself!
From years of near-maniacal 4×4 antipathy, Iain Robertson is relenting and highlighting that ‘life is simply too short’ to hold so much prejudice, because we all need to start reliving our lives and you might as well start with a cut-price 4WD!
A couple of years ago, I reported on a shocking stockholding of minimal mileage Jaguar and Land Rover models, stashed on a series of disused military airfields dotted around the UK. They are still there. The land rent alone must be horrendous. What sort of ‘con’ is being played out that insists production must continue for the sake of registrations’ data, even though actual sales have been in decline? From what I understood then, a scenario that remains extant, a large number of the parked, low mileage machines are ‘returned stock’, from dissatisfied owners, breakdowns, ex-rentals and recalls. It all seems terribly wasteful.
A few years prior to that discovery, no pun intended, I had been ‘in discussion’ with a senior Ford Motor Company executive (Alan Mullaly, now retired). The subject was the Ford Direct used car sales operation and he was explaining to me the firm’s UK ‘remanufacturing’ facility, located on the Essex side of the Thames. In essence, trainloads of new cars would be delivered to the UK, from Ford of Europe, offloaded and transported to dealers and ‘holding areas’ (some of which included the aforementioned air-bases).
Those vehicles being ‘held’ would be registered (for the sake of the licence plates and SMMT data) and immediately SORN’d. After a prior of six to nine months, with no takers, they would be re-dispatched to the ‘remanufacturing’ centre, where they would be ‘aged’ and distributed to the Ford Direct network. In reality, most had covered no more than 10 miles being shunted from one place to another…while their odometers may have shown 5 to 9,000 miles after repurposing. Almost dumbfounded, I begged to know why and the executive informed me that Ford could make more profit from an used car, than a new one…a strange ‘quid pro quo’, if ever one existed.
From having been informed by numerous car company executives over the years, whenever the subject of economic consolidation was aired, that it would be ‘impossible to stop the production lines, as so much was at stake, from employment and ‘just-in-time’ suppliers, to already steep operational overheads’, the recent stoppages enforced by Coronavirus may present a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Our new car scene is flooded with all manner of new cars, every single one of which depreciates like the proverbial rock thrown off a bridge into deep water. Private buyers have to grin and bear it, while company taxation breaks mean that the rest of the population shoulders broadly similar corporate losses.
My solution lies in reducing flotillas of niche models, at manufacturing stage, while slashing prices of new cars to more realistic levels, urging private buyers to ‘invest’ in used examples instead. Take some of the more extravagant Land Rovers, as examples. Almost every British county has its local 4×4 specialist. We have one in Lincolnshire, Keith Arnold Cars. An highly regarded Land Rover exponent, he is as ‘well-known’ out of county, as he is within it. Only a fortnight ago, I spotted an immaculate, not quite nine years old Range Rover Sport Autobiography on his forecourt, powered by the V8 diesel engine. With a mere 46,000 miles recorded, with all belts and braces done, its price-tag of less than £20k is around one-fifth of its original, fully loaded list price. Bargain? You had better believe it! Yet, there are loads of them on the market that are sure to be supplemented in coming months.
When all of the carmakers return to manufacturing, rest assured, just depressing the ‘green’ button on the production line is likely to be only the start of their problems. Very few of their dealers have been working at all and even fulfilling the order banks for EVs, PHEVs and BEVs may take some time to resolve. In the ‘olden days’, when the likes of Rustin’ Over, sorry, Austin-Rover, used to cease production for the ‘fairs fortnight’, teams of crack maintenance staff used the opportunity to service overworked machinery, in readiness for staff returning after their annual vacations. There is a significant increase in unmanned operations within car companies these days and servicing the robot community is sure to be highly demanding, if not beset with viruses of its own.
Naturally, despite the apparent generosity of spirit and funding displayed by our government in the crisis management period of Covid-19, when we do return to our proven areas of commercial and industrial safety, we are going to be forced into repaying whatever funds we have ‘borrowed’. There is little point in candy coating the situation, as companies will need to address the loans and all employees can look forward to a dramatic increase in standard taxation levels; precisely what those figures will be will take into account the repatriation flights, emergency hospitals, NHS funding and the costs associated with government loans. In brief, if you were already ‘struggling’ to survive in cash-strapped Britain, the reins will be applied even more severely than those demanded by ‘austerity’. Things are going to be tight.
If you have ridden out the crisis and still have cash in the bank, for heaven’s sake, spend it! Buying a 4×4 is not a panacea; neither is it going to be viable for the vast majority. Yet, fuel prices are at an all-time low and we are still 15 years away from Boris’s stated desire to turn us all-electric. Therefore, if you can afford it, go for it…but make it a used example, if for no other reason than to stop your conscience from nagging too vociferously.
Conclusion: Rest assured, when we all emerge from our cloistered existences, adapting to a long period of settling back into routines, hampered by financial constraints, is going to lead to a squandering crisis. Buy wisely!