London, United Kingdom (PressExposure) April 17, 2009 -- Nobody warned me I'd need to wear a pair of sunglasses. The light reflecting off all the polished chrome is starting to give me a headache. American "muscle cars" seem to have chrome fitted as standard so there is no shortage of it on display at the forecourt of American Car Imports in London. The company imports and sells cars built for Americans, by Americans. Think about the car Steve McQueen drove in the film Bullitt or what David Hasselhoff drove in Knight Rider and you've just about got the idea. We're talking about Corvettes, Hummers, Mustangs and Dodge Vipers. Fewer customers It's a niche market but just like other car dealers in the UK the company has seen a 25-30% decline in its sales figures. "Times are hard," says Antony Cohen who owns the business. Normally they'd be taking orders for two to three new cars a week but sales have tailed off. Business deteriorated markedly at the end of last year. "The phone didn't ring as much. There weren't as many enquiries. People that were thinking of or wanting to buy a vehicle just would not commit," says Mr Cohen. He runs the business with his brother-in-law John Cohen and employs two mechanics. Anthony Cohen used to be a retail manager for Marks and Spencer before setting up the business in 1991. The two men started selling cars out of Anthony Cohen's back garden before moving the business to its current premises in a quiet street in North London. The company has no need for a costly showroom in an exclusive location as most of its customers find the business via the internet. Accordingly the atmosphere here is relaxed. Nobody wears a suit; there's no need. Cutting costs "People want these cars," says Anthony Cohen. "Not many, but we are here to satisfy that niche demand... whether it's McDonalds or Mustangs there is definitely an association with America." "Life can be a little mundane or routine and to have a car that actually puts a smile on your face and is actually a talking point, well why not?" His desk is surrounded by hundreds of model cars that sit on the shelves of his open plan office. Dozens of newspaper cuttings about the businesses are neatly framed on the walls too. One of the cuttings is about David Beckham. He bought a car here a few years ago. Marketing But business remains tough. As well as a decline in sales the company has also been hit by the fall in value of the pound against the American dollar. It makes it more expensive for the firm to buy cars from America and bring them to the UK. So cutting costs has been an imperative. Sourcing vehicles from Canada, where the exchange rate is more favourable, has helped. So too has reducing the amount of money spent advertising the company in glossy car magazines. But it's the budget for marketing the company online where the business has made the biggest savings. "Google pay-per-click advertising can be a bottomless pit.... we were spending a good few thousand on it each month. If you cut that right back you can save quite a lot of money," says Mr Cohen. Staying in business In the garage downstairs, one of the company mechanics, Gary is busy dismantling a brand new Dodge Challenger, a car that looks like the one from the Dukes of Hazard. It is not broken. It has not been in an accident either. Regulations mean as the vehicle was built in the US it has to be altered so it meets European safety regulations. It is a costly and time consuming process which every car they import has to go through. But as Anthony Cohen points out it is not all doom and gloom. "Not every industry is in recession," he says. "The economy hasn't halved. It's only down by three, four or five percent. So 95 % of the economy is still functioning and a lot of those people still want to do business."
Out on the forecourt I ask which car has the best sounding engine. Just about all of them on have got a V8 under the bonnet - a big engine. He fires up a Ford Mustang. A deep gurgle erupts from all four of its chrome exhausts. He is confident he'll be in business as long as there are petrol heads who love hearing that sound.
Story from BBC NEWS: http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/business/7986385.stm
Published: 2009/04/06 21:02:16 GMT
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