Big dealer flogs cheapo car imports on the Net

Rip-Off Britain under threat

A leading British car dealer is to flog cut-price imports over the Net. DC Cook, operator of more than 100 dealer showrooms in Britain, will work with Totalise, which already has an established car import business, to bring cars to the UK from Europe, where prices can be up to 40 per cent cheaper. This is another nail in the coffin for the car dealer franchise system, lovingly constructed by the major car companies over years and protected still by the European Union (its official sanction of restrictive distribution in the car sector will end soon). It is not a good time to be a motor dealer in Booming Britain, officially the world's fourth biggest economy, but a place where car sales are falling (down 11 per cent on last month). Punters have read the Rip-Off Britain articles in the national press (particularly the Sunday Times) and they don't want to pay British prices any more. It's not the car dealers who are making excess profits from British punters - for that we have to look to the manufacturers, who have been making some easy money in this country. Car dealers will find the going even tougher. New intermediaries - such as P&O, the shipping line - will deliver imported cars to British consumers' doorsteps, taking away the hassle and the paperwork, while delivering savings of thousands of pounds. OneSwoop, heavily funded, and now up and running despite a few glitches, and Virgin Cars, not out of the blocks yet, are also gunning hard for the new car business. As is Directline, the Royal Bank of Scotland subsidiary, which has signed up Dixon Motors (a big traditional dealer) to handle the fulfilment of its new online car sales business, which launches in the summer. According to RBS, 15 per cent of all new car sales in Britain will be made over the Net by 2002. But let's not forget the secondhand market: edfined.net is raising £10 million through an AIM placing in April, to take used car sales on the Net. DC Cook is fighting back: and so will other big traditional car dealers. This can only benefit British consumers. ®

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