There is very little that can be said about
the UK car market in the opening two months of 1999 because it cannot be compared with
anything that has gone before. The switch to two registration plate changes a year has
hammered sales in January and February, but a tidal wave will arrive in March and it will
be some time yet before we get a real feel of what is happening.

What can be said is that the same
conditions applied to all, and as the market was tumbling by 35.0% for the opening period,
to 265,882 from 409,188, and by a dramatic 52.6% in February itself (at 84,040 from
177,133) the likes of BMW Group and Ford Group suffered to a greater extent than most. BMW
have an enormous task on their hands to turn the Rover ship around. The pairing has now
sunk to fifth place in the table and whilst Longbridge is wallowing in doubt and self
pity, a few miles up the road at Ryton the decks are being prepared for an altogether
different game.

What is ominous to all of the contenders in
the market is that despite facing a market that had plunged by 143,306 units, Volkswagen
somehow contrived to sell more cars so far this year than last, at 22,026 from 21,469. Of
course, to a degree that reflects the fact that the Golf was in short supply at the start
of 1998, but it nevertheless stands out as a remarkable performance, given the