Roughly one in 10 new cars reported as sold may not leave the dealership for months or — in rare cases — years.
CarsGuide has seen data showing between 25 per cent and 50 per cent of sales among certain luxury brands are so-called "demonstrator" models that may not have been delivered to a customer.
In all cases, the cars are not counted twice — but they may be sold six months or more after the official industry tallies say they were.
One leading car company executive believes the industry's rubbery sales figures could soon come to an end.
Sales data released monthly by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries is based on self-reported numbers from dealers and car companies.
They are not based on new-car registrations, even though the data is used by the Australian Bureau of Statistics to monitor consumer behaviour monthly.
The longstanding industry practice of declaring cars as sold even though they are still in stock was exposed last year.
Hyundai Australia boss Scott Grant — a former high-ranking executive at Toyota and Holden Special Vehicles — believes measuring new car sales on recorded registrations is "inevitable".
"At some point with all of the government regulatory focus, whether it be from the ACCC or ASIC or any other organisation, (there may be a regulation) saying registrations equals sales and that's the end of it," Grant says.
The longstanding industry practice of declaring cars as sold even though they are still in stock (commonly referred to as "cyber cars" because the "sale" only exists in cyberspace) was exposed last year. The Nissan Australia boss blamed an extended sales downturn on the fact the company was merely trying to get through all the cars it had declared as sold over the previous 18 months.
Grant says: "There have been times when (the number of declared but unsold cars) have probably been unhealthy." He cites other countries, such as New Zealand, that compile sales data based on registrations.
He is a FCAI board member and says the group has yet to consider formally a switch to using vehicle registrations.
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