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INSIDER: Queues for Fords and discounts for Mercs

Date: 27 May 2008

The Insider is a fleet manager with years of invaluable experience

It's a topsy-turvy world out there when Insider can pick up premium bargains yet can't lay his hands on a fleet mainstay

What on earth is going on in the car market right now? The grapevine is twitching with tales of massive discounts on motors you'd never expect to budge from the list price, while long queues form behind erstwhile fleet staples.

Can you believe there's a shortage of Ford's new Titanium X Mondeo? This for a version costing up to £25k and more.

On the flipside, Mercedes seems to be discounting like a French manufacturer, offering thousands off the E-class, C-class and pretty-much-any-other-Class you care to mention. Audi, too, appears to be having trouble shifting the new A4.

At the risk of drawing conclusions on the back of some (admittedly quite persistent) rumours, can the premium tide finally be turning? If the likes of Ford can develop a big hatchback that appeals to user choosers (ie not just fleet managers), how will the posh brands extend the gap and maintain their price differentials?

Follow this line of inquiry too far and it's not hard to imagine being offered a bigger percentage off an Audi A4 than a Citroen C5 (the new one, obviously). Don't believe it? Substitute the Saab 9-3 for the Audi and that fantasy becomes very close to reality. Even Vauxhall's forthcoming Insignia with its Jaguar XF silhouette could conceivably be seen as an A4 alternative in these strange times.

As ithappens, the Vectra it replaces is being flogged with a bigger reduction than a 6pm supermarket sandwich, but I'll speculate this model might just mark the end of the cheap fleet barge. Or at least the beginning of the end.

In producing a range of cars people actually want, Ford has revealed the workings of badge snobbery. The trend-setters ditch a brand because its cars are boring, unreliable, ugly or whatever. The badge is uncool, the snobs stay away. But now the likes of Ford have mostly righted their wrongs, we're seeing a reversal of that, the timing of which has been pushed forward by a fragile economy.

While fleets or leasing companies don't seem to have a problem securing finance to buy cars, the private punter is apparently struggling to secure those low-payment PCP deals that the manufacturers love. You know the ones: always branded something silly like Options or Perceptions. Banks just aren't doing risk at the moment, meaning the few people who are prepared to commit a large chunk of money every month to get a new car are being turned down. So what happens? They lower their sights, the likes of Ford get more business, the VIP manufacturers turn to fleets to soak up the excess stock and we get offered cheaper Saabs than Fords. Which is absolutely fine by me.