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Pre-registered new cars can be a bargain

A price-leader 316i is back at the bottom of the range and dealers have plenty of cars with tasty incentives.

The next time you go into a new-car showroom there is a key word you can use to get the bargaining started. The word for the day is 'pre-registered'. It's a tag applied to cars that are already plated and paid-up members of the new-car fleet, but have yet to find an owner.

Now, there have always been 'pre-registered' cars in Australia, mostly for use as new-car demonstrators and personal cars for company executives. But the numbers have blown out massively in recent years as a wide range of makes have artifically inflated their success in the official showroom tally compiled each month by VFacts through the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries.

People with long memories will recall the take-no-prisoners sales battles betwen Ford and Holden through to the 1970s, when the two brands routinely paid to register everything in dealerships to boost their December numbers to try and win the annual sales race.

These days, it's a month-by-month battle as more than 60 brands force-fed customers with impressive new cars and equally-impressive value. New cars have never been more affordable and it's buyers who have the power if they're prepared to go 'pre-registered'.

That might mean a compromise on colour or equipment, but a 'pre-registered' car is certain to be a bargain, from the sub-$15,000 cheapies through to prestige brands including Audi and BMW.

Historically, a demo fleet of 10-15 per cent of monthly sales was considered normal, but some companies are now pumping the numbers up to more than 50 per cent of their VFacts total. Dealers need to move them on and out because their next month's stock is on the way, or already arrrived, and the merry-go-wheel needs to keep turning for everyone to hit their targets and maximise their returns.

Not all brands are playing the 'pre-registered' game, but it's more common than you might think. "The demo fleet should be around 10-15 per cent of monthly sales. But our numbers have blown out to more like 60 per cent," one car company chief admits to Carsguide. "So far as I know, the only people not doing it are Mercedes-Benz and Toyota. Because they don't have to."

As the calendar winds down to the end of 2013, there is even more pressure to clear backlogs of old cars - they're called 'aged stock' by insiders - before the 2014-plated newbies arrive and the cycle begins again. A lot of them will be 'pre-registered' to get them off the books, making them prime targets for bargain buyers.

But don't expect anyone to admit what's happening. Most car company chiefs are in denial and dealers are protective of details to protect their profit margins. Still, if you're firm but polite, ask the right questions and are prepared to compromise , you could easily find a bargain that's already registered and ready to go.

CHOICES

 

BMW 3 Series - see other verdicts

Price: from $52,300

Engine: 1.6-litre petrol, 100kW/200Nm

Transmission: 8-speed automatic, RWD

Thirst: 5.9L/100km

 

 

The benchmark BMW has been clobbered by the C-Class Benz this year and that's triggered also sorts of 3 Series action. A price-leader 316 is back at the bottom of the range and dealers have plenty of cars with tasty incentives.

 

Honda Civic - see other verdicts

Price: from $19,490

Engine: 1.8-litre petrol, 104kW/174Nm

Transmission: 5-speed manual, FWD

Thirst: 6.8L/100km

 

 

Honda is doing everything it can to get shoppers back into showrooms, including a range of price cuts across its range. You can now get a Civic sedan from $21,990 on the road and, although it's way off the small-car pace, there are people who still love a Honda badge. {C}

 

Nissan Pulsar - see other verdicts

Price: from $18,990

Engine: 1.8-litre petrol, 96kW/174Nm

Transmission: 6-speed manual, FWD

Thirst: 6.7L/100km

 

 

{C}

Nissan has dropped the bar on small-car prices, but even a $18,990 driveaway deal has not been enough to clear huge backlogs of unsold Pulsars. Dealers are getting desperate and there are big incentives to clear the decks before the end of the year.


USED CAR

A driveaway deal is usually par for the course in the secondhand world, which makes bargain hunting both easier and harder. Right now, as things change dramatically on the small-car scene, used cars in the sub-$20,000 class are coming under a lot of pressure. Why buy pre-owned when you can get a Pulsar from $18,990, and when even the Toyota Corolla is under the $20k limit?

One of the best choices is a Mazda3, especially as we're about to see an all-new model in local showrooms. And that will put even more pressure on the previous models. The 3 was a landmark car for Mazda and set new records as it rose to tip the Holden Commodore off the top of Australian motoring.

It's dated by comparison to the latest models, but a tidy Mazda3 makes a lot of sense because it drives well, has impressive quality and is backed by one of the best dealer networks in Australian motoring. The Mazda3 ticks all the boxes for a used car, provided you shop smart and play the field.

This reporter is on Twitter: @paulwardgover
 

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