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'The UK's car retail trade lags behind the vibrant the manufacturing and design sectors'

Britain's car sales sector in the automotive industry is way behind the likes of the US, says Mike Rutherford

Opinion article lead image of cars

One of the most impressive car blokes I’ve met? Brian Miller, a no-nonsense native New Yorker who owns Manhattan Motorcars which, in turn, is one of the finest dealerships I’ve visited.

In comparatively backwards Britain, competition laws and other regulations mean it’s near impossible to find a multi-franchised outlet in a single, state-of-the-art, high street building. But Miller’s corner plot where 11th Avenue meets West 51st Street is home to several luxury, supercar and hypercar franchises that live on several floors. Honestly, it’s so right on so many levels.  

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If there is such a place as car retail heaven, this is it. And if, say, Miller’s Bentley showroom doesn’t float your boat, you’re only seconds away from his Porsche, Lamborghini and Bugatti floors on the same glorious site. Alternatively, if you’re not buying at the moment, you may still be invited (as I was) to one of his in-dealership soft sell live music/fine dining/red carpet events. No wonder the rich and famous are Miller’s mates... and clients.

"Is an increasingly insular US losing its touch?"

At the other end of the scale, millions of Americans who can only afford pennies a day for their wheels are at least able to lease modest new cars for around $20 (£15.85) a week, which is the sort of money I spend on the weekly car wash – except I wouldn’t in the US because dealers often offer them free to clients. So why have I never heard of the same giveaway in Blighty?

Bread and butter cars with official prices cut by 20 per cent are so common in the US some makers occupy much TV airtime advertising such heavily discounted models. If you consider three years to be too short for a loan or lease and want five or six years, it’s yours – and possibly with zero per cent finance. Or how about a list showing which makers are best at making their dealers rich (and therefore financially secure to offer fatter discounts) while revealing those that can barely scratch a living (thereby giving no room to be generous to customers)?

"Pay £1,000 a month and a McLaren is yours. Not cheap, but not expensive either"

Can Britain get more of this good, consumer-friendly stuff from America please? Here, the largely stagnant automotive retail trade is falling way, way behind the more vibrant car design and manufacturing sector. With all this in mind, UK punters clearly need these andsimilar US-style sales techniques... plus more customer-focused motor traders like the extraordinary man from Manhattan Motorcars.

What do you think of the current state of Britain's car sales sector? Let us know below...

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Chief columnist

Mike was one of the founding fathers of Auto Express in 1988. He's been motoring editor on four tabloid newspapers - London Evening News, The Sun, News of the World & Daily Mirror. He was also a weekly columnist on the Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Sunday Times. 

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