Many would-be car buyers who held off in anticipation of cheaper vehicles because of the government's commitment to lower tariffs under the Asean Free-Trade Area are now in a quandary. Instead of cheaper vehicles, they could actually end up paying more for their pride and joy. Although the Malaysian government has slashed import duties to 25 per cent from this year, it has also raised excise duties by between 30 and 100 per cent on imported vehicles to offset its revenue loss. Following the latest brouhaha, some of the procrastinators were hoping that the government would undertake a review. General uncertainty about prices remains, as car companies are still working out the details. But Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said that the government would leave prices to market forces because government figures indicated that prices would not rise. Responding to reports that cars could cost more than last year, Mr Abdullah, who is also the finance minister, said that this could be due to several factors, such as dealers not being prepared to reduce profit margins and the unfavourable exchange rate of the euro and yen against the local currency. He had this to say to dealers: 'If you lower the price now and sell more cars, the volume will ensure your profit.' This was echoed by International Trade and Industry Minister, Rafidah Aziz, who said that if dealers were willing to reap less profit, they could always reduce prices to bridge the disparity between the old and the new. But she conceded that the final prices may not be as low as before - a fact that makes a lot of would-be buyers feel like kicking themselves. Reeling from the confusion, one dealer lamented the fact that the authorities had failed to act decisively: 'Why can't they just make a clear-cut announcement? If there's an increase, the government should announce the actual increase,' he said. The main focus now is on how much prices will actually change. Many consumers and car companies alike have become exasperated by the guessing game resulting from the publication of a general table of import and excise duties on New Year's Day. As such, many companies are still holding discussions and seeking further clarification from the authorities. At the same time, car dealers are in a fix: to sell or not to sell. 'If we want to sell, we don't know what price to sell at. If we opt not to sell, we will not get commission,' said one. To safeguard them from uncertainties until they have worked out the prices, many dealers have asked buyers to sign a conditional sales agreement to indicate that they will pay any additional cost when the new duty structure is in force. This uncertainty is a real damper for sales staff, who had been hoping to cash in on the shopping spree ahead of Chinese New Year. Traditionally, January has always been one of the best months for car sales, but the confusion and hesitancy on the part of consumers could translate into leaner times for staff.