FORD of Britain boss Nigel Sharp predicts the UK market will grow more than official SMMT figures estimate in 2011.
Speaking exclusively to Car Dealer at the launch of the new Focus, he said he expects new car registrations to exceed the 1.93m the SMMT expects.
As the boss of the country’s biggest selling brand the positive prediction comes as a welcome boost in the same week as it was revealed economic growth slipped back into the negative in the last quarter of 2010.
‘I’m cautiously optimistic,’ he told us. ‘The SMMT is quoting a predicted market of 1.93m but I would suggest that it could be bigger than that.
‘There is positive news around. Last year, despite everything that’s happening in the economy and all the doom and gloom in newspaper articles, the car market grew by 1.8 per cent.
‘And within that you had scrappage go from about 280,000 units to 120,000 last year so in reality there was a much bigger growth.’
But it was another green shoot of recovery that’s really got Sharp excited – the commercial vehicle sector picking up.
Sharp explained: ‘It’s always a tell tale sign of what’s happening in terms of demand when the medium commercial sector, the Transit-sized vehicles, starts going up. Signs of a recovery are always seen in the medium commercial market first and we’ve seen that happen at the end of last year – and it’s continued going like a train this month.’
The Ford chief also revealed that January has been well ahead of expectations for the brand. Ford has enjoyed retail sales that were better than they’d imagined, and while fleet sales have remained flat, commercial vehicles are flying out of showrooms.
‘I think they’ll be strengthening in the car market this year,’ added Sharp. ‘We will sell more cars in January than we thought we were going to.
‘The tell tale thing now is what happens to consumer confidence and that’s the thing I can’t predict. We’ve prepared a worst case scenario plan, now it’s up to us to try and beat it.’
Sharp was still under no illusions that 2011 will be very tough for his 500-strong dealer network and added they need to ensure they don’t discount heavily and lose volume at the same time.
‘This year could be a very bruising one for dealers,’ he added. ‘You’ll see a much wider spectrum of results from dealers. But they’re in better shape to weather the storm now than ever before.’
There will be a full interview with Nigel Sharp and a review of the new Ford Focus in our new look magazine out on February 15. Subscribe by clicking here to ensure you don’t miss out.