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Wednesday, June 30, 1999 Published at 10:39 GMT 11:39 UK

Business: The Economy

The 'Great British car rip-off'

UK car buyers can often save thousands by purchasing abroad

The Consumers' Association (CA) is launching a campaign to highlight the 'Great British car rip-off'.

It wants to shame the car industry into bringing down prices for new vehicles by showing how UK buyers are being overcharged compared to motorists on the continent.

The BBC's Sarah Boxhall assesses whether UK car buyers are getting a raw deal
The CA found that Britons pay more for 60 out of the top 74 best-selling cars in the EU.

Phil Evans, the Consumers' Association policy advisor, said: "We are being ripped off because the European Commission has allowed the car industry in Europe to decide how we buy cars as consumers and it has stopped a proper market functioning and when that happens manfuacturers have been able to boost their profits at our expense.

[ image: Surveys have shown that new cars are cheaper in Europe]
Surveys have shown that new cars are cheaper in Europe
"What we want to see is an end to the block exemption in Europe, an end to the system which allows manufacturers to dictate how you and I buy cars.

"We want to see a proper open market for cars in Europe", Mr Evans added.

The main UK car manufacturers and traders have consistently argued against the relaxation of import controls, claiming that imported vehicles may be unsafe or fail to conform to environmental standards.

Al Clarke, of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and traders said: "Frankly the Consumers' Association are barking up the wrong tree.

"There is no rip off of the great British public, the great British public are sensibly buying private cars in the UK in greater numbers than ever before."

Pricing probe

But the UK's £24bn motor trade is currently under investigation by the Competition Commission after surveys revealed that British consumers were paying up to 60% more for comparable makes and models of popular cars.

The Competition Commission, formerly the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, is to invite the public to voice their views on car pricing at a series of open hearings next month.

The Office of Fair Trading referred the issue to the commission after it found evidence that manufacturers were using recommended resale prices for vehicles to mask the true selling price of cars and deterring dealers from bringing in cheaper parallel imports from other EU countries.

[ image: The Consumers' Assocation hope to shame the car industry into action]
The Consumers' Assocation hope to shame the car industry into action
One survey by the European Commission found that a Rover 214 would cost £10,953 in the UK compared to just £7,210 in France.

Denise Kingsmill of the Competition Commission said: "We hope an informed debate in public is a good way of getting the arguments out in the open.

"We are not expecting the car companies, or anybody else, to give us confidential information, that we would expect to come through in the private hearings

"But I think that there are some robust arguments on both sides and I think it will be in everybody's interest for them to be put fairly and squarely before the public."

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