Consumer Protection (Motor Vehicles)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th April 1976.

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Photo of George Young George Young , Ealing Acton 12:00 am, 28th April 1976

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law on consumer protection with respect to the advertisement for sale of motor vehicles; and for connected purposes. The object of my Bill is to prevent motor car manufacturers from advertising their new cars at prices which bear little relation to what the public eventually pay. In particular, it would prevent advertisement of prices which exclude the cost of seat belts and number plates, both of which are legally necessary, or which exclude delivery charges.

The principle of the Bill is supported by the Consumers' Association. In its April 1973 publication there was a feature on hidden extras. On page 79 it said: seat-belts and number plates—each as integral a part of your car as steering wheel or headlights—shouldn't be extras at all: their cost should be included in the car's price". It went on to say: Delivery charges should also be included in the price of the car, or at the very least, fixed and enforced by the manufacturer. You don't pay extra for a fridge to come from the factory to the shop. What's so different about car shops? The principle of my Bill is also supported by the Motor Agents Association. Its code of practice for the motor industry, drawn up by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the Motor Agents Association and the Scottish Motor Trade Association, in consultation with the Director General of Fair Trading, states in paragraph 6.6: In principle, a price quoted should be a price at which the consumer can buy the goods. Manufacturers and dealers should therefore quote prices for new cars, whether in advertisements or in show-rooms, inclusive of the price of any extras known to be fitted to the car together with the appropriate VAT (quoting the rate applicable) and car tax. That is not being done.

I also have the support of the Office of Fair Trading, with which I have been corresponding on this subject. In a letter to me dated 29th December 1975, the Deputy-Director General said: However, I remain of the opinion that in principle the display of prices which exclude part of the minimum sum which the consumer must pay in order to buy the goods or services concerned is an undesirable practice. In the same month the Office of Fair Trading sent out a consultative letter which dealt with the practice of pricing goods and services. It said: At present some prices are displayed or advertised which exclude part of the minimum sum which the consumer must pay in order to buy the goods or services to which they relate. I think that in principle this is unfair to the consumer. If a price figure is quoted, that figure should be a price at which the consumer can buy; the quotation of amounts lower than this misleads and confuses the consumer. It went on to say: Misleading pricing of this kind takes many forms …the omission from car prices of obligatory charges for delivery, seat belts and number plates. I have seen a range of invoices which show that the so-called extras add up to a significant sum. On a Fiat costing £1,347, the delivery charge, number plates and seat belts came to an extra £56, or 4·2 per cent. of the total cost. On a modest vehicle which I purchased recently, seat belts, number plates and delivery charges came to £51·19.

There is no reason why car manufacturers should not be required to advertise their products at a price at which the consumer can buy them. Some cat manufacturers have a standard delivery charge which is now included in the advertised price. Number plates and seat belts, which are an integral part of a car, should be an integral part of the price. I have seen advertisements by an enlightened distributor which advertise cars at an all-inclusive price. It can, therefore, be done. But manufacturers show no signs of implementing their new code of practice—that the price quoted should be a price at which the customer can deal.

Some of the advertisements show how the recommendations of their own society are being flouted by car manufacturers. For example, an advertisement for a Citroen entitled "GS Comfort" states: Prices start at £1,898·91 for the well equipped 1015 c.c. G. Special. However, this well-equipped vehicle cannot be bought at that price since the equipment excludes seat belts and number plates. Further, since the vehicle is locked in a distributor's depot, and will remain there until a delivery charge is paid, the price is additionally misleading. That advertisement appeared in the Sunday Times on 11th April.

In the Sunday Times of 18th April there was a full-page advertisement for an Audi. It stated: The Audi 80 range starts at £2,548. Of course, it does no such thing. The small print says that this price includes VAT and car tax, but it does not say that it excludes delivery, seat belts and number plates. This advertisement flagrantly conflicts with the code as the omissions are not made explicit.

That advertisement begins as follows: Why is it that your car so often seems to use so much more petrol on the road than it does in advertisements? It seems to add insult to injury by making the car seem cheaper than it is on the road. I have since spoken to the company, which has agreed that the advertisement breaches the code and it has promised that it will change it.

An advertisement for a Renault 30 T.S. states: The Renault 30 T.S. costs £3,952·26. It does not, since that price excludes delivery, front seat belts and number plates.

The Vauxhall Chevette is also advertised at a fictitious price, as are the Chrysler Alpine, the Vauxhall Cavalier and the Peugeot 104. But, to its credit, Peugeot includes seat belts in the recommended retail price However, the Peugeot advertisement for L states: At just £2,782 it will enable you to join the ever increasing group of discriminating motorists who are already 504 owners "— but only if one sat in the car with no number plates or seat belts, locked in the distributor's car park. Few discriminating motorists wish to do that.

I shall not weary the House by quoting from any further advertisements, but most hon. Members know from experience that constituents who buy cars face an additional burden about which they are not told when they read about the cars in advertisements. I know of no other commodity which is advertised in this way, and I find the practice misleading and offensive. The industry is clearly reluctant to introduce realistic advertising voluntarily. I hope, therefore, that hon. Members on both sides will support this modest measure to introduce honesty into motor-car advertising.