More data on car sales needed

More data on car sales needed

The Land Transport Authority’s unwillingness to give car registration details does not serve consumers and the industry

Which is the most popular car in Singapore? How many sports-utility vehicles were sold last year? Are roadsters more popular than cabriolets? Which is the best-selling multi-purpose vehicle?

The answers to those questions used to be fairly accessible. But today, nobody knows. Well, nobody besides the Land Transport Authority (LTA), that is.

The LTA says it cannot divulge information pertaining to certain car brands without explicit consent from those brands.

One of the brands is Mercedes-Benz, which has been hogging the bestsellers’ list in recent years.

Life! understands that Mercedes-Benz is bound by new anti-trust laws that prevent it from revealing detailed sales figures. BMW and other German brands are said to be similarly bound.

But observers say that the LTA is not bound by such laws and can therefore share registration information at its discretion. “Registration data, once it is given to the LTA, belongs to the LTA,” one industry source says.

It remains a mystery why the regulator and central depository of vehicle information is taking such a stand. It declines to elaborate when asked to clarify.

To be fair, the LTA cannot take the full blame for the information gap. The Motor Traders Association (MTA) may be equally responsible.

You see, the MTA used to represent almost every brand that was present here. So, it had access to detailed information about the types of cars sold here. But in recent years, its membership has dwindled dramatically. It is said that some companies had found the relevance and usefulness of the association wanting.

Ironically, the very companies that quit contributed to the MTA’s lack of consensus when it came to issues related to the trade. In short, if the association lacked potency, disunity among members was a major cause.

In any case, that is water under the bridge. With the German companies governed by anti-trust laws that forbid sharing of information, it is doubtful they would rejoin the MTA. Members are required to share registration information.

Which brings us back to the LTA. The authority remains the only credible source of registration information.

Now, car registration data may seem inconsequential – and it is, to most people. So why is the LTA’s unwillingness to share data such a big deal?

Well, it is a big deal because the act of not sharing information that does not impinge on privacy or security flies in the face of transparency. And transparency is a key ingredient in the bedrock of any First World trade and business hub. It also contributes to overall accountability and good governance.

So, in principle, the LTA’s unwillingness to reveal car registration details goes against the grain – in a big way.

And car registration data is more than just sales numbers and brand ranking. It holds a wealth of information.

Knowing how many Mercedes-Benz SLK roadsters were sold last year, and how those numbers compared with BMW Z4 and Porsche Boxster sales, would give motor traders an idea of the popularity of two-seater convertibles. It helps traders plan.

To economists, the information may be a crucial bellwether. Because sporty cars are usually discretionary purchases, they are a good indicator of actual confidence among consumers.

The sharp policymaker would also notice changes in registration trends, and perhaps nip an anomaly that has arisen in the vehicle quota system in the bud. Likewise, published vehicle registration data would help shape policies pertaining to rollout of emission standards, as well as those pertaining to carbon incentives and disincentives.

Of course, the LTA could still provide details about cars without divulging the identity of the cars, but that would make it harder for others to cross-check the details.

Alternatively, it could provide completely free access to all government bodies. If so, it can very well do the same for the public. It would only be fair.

Registration data may not make a material difference to the public, but it can make for interesting reading nonetheless.

Having such information out in the open also promotes competition among brands. And competition, in this case, is good for the consumer.

christan@sph.com.sg

 


This article was first published on April 18, 2015.
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