By David Simpson , Business Correspondent
The Austin Rover group’s share of domestic sales has fallen sharply during the first 10 days of August, while the number of cars sold has come close to a record, exceeding most motor industry expectations. Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders research shows 220,000 new cars registered, more than four times as many as in the whole of July, and 18,000 more than in the first part of August 1985. Austin Rover has seen its proportion of domestic shares slip to only 13.6 per cent, pushing the state group into third place in the sales league behind both Ford and the General Motors subsidiary, Vauxhall.
Through the whole of August last year , the company held a share in excess of 17 per cent, well ahead of Vauxhall, but during 1986, its market hold has been falling steadily, partly it claims, because of the uncertainties provoked by its ultimately aborted sale to Ford at the beginning of the year. Ford, in the meantime , has consolidated its market lead , seizing a 27.7 per cent share of new sales so far this month. August traditionally accounts for between 20 and 25 per cent of total annual car sales in the UK. This year is the last time that a new annual registration prefix will be introduced in August , with the next prefiix , the E registration , being delayed until October 1987.
Rover has already stated publicly that its financial position has deteriorated through the year , and the Department of Trade and Industry has reconciled itself to far worse losses than anticipated. The state corporation has improved its exports to Europe, while the new Rover 800 series, launched last month, has so far proved successful, but poor domestic sales figures in the key month of the year will put grave new pressures on the group’s resources. Discounting among the leading manufacturers has proved more restrained this year , but the high level of real earnings coupled with lower interest rates has led to a surge in consumer demand well beyond most forecasts.
Keith Harper writes: Trade unions at Rover are demanding a clear statement on its future from its chairman , Mr Graham Day, who was yesterday accused of ” moving the goalposts. ”
Their chief spokesman, Mr Mick Murphy, has written to Mr Day pointing out that in the past two years group output has been dispute free , with 99 per cent of planned output being achieved. The unions are bothered about Mr Day’s decision to sell Leyland Bus and shares in Unipart , the spares and accessories division. Mr Murphy, who is chairman of the biggest bargaining unit in the group, and is about to enter pay negotiation s says that Mr Day’s moves have done nothing to ‘boost confidence in the workers commitment to the company. His letter declares that the shopfloor has shown loyalty and a commitment to the future ” which is wholly without precedent. ” It was management’s turn to reciprocate.