Is the glass half empty or half full? In the UK motor market, it depends who you ask.

Neil Utley is clearly an optimist. As we report this week, fresh from IAG UK, he has attracted significant amounts of new money into Advantage, boosting its capacity as rates harden.

The market's plight is well known. As we revealed earlier this year in figures from consultancy EMB, the sector’s combined operating ratio (COR) was 119% in 2009. This was caused not just by kamikaze competition driving down rates, but also by cost inflation of 30% arising from bodily injury claims.

There have already been plenty of casualties. Remember HSBC Insurance? It went into run-off at the end of last year. Hardly surprising, given its COR of 211%. Provident has been on the block for months now and looks to be struggling to find a buyer.

Its COR? 123% in 2009.

Last week, the news also broke that NIG was putting its personal lines book into run-off. People wonder why it didn’t try to sell it. Well, would you have bought it?

It’s a grim picture, which makes it easy to understand why many insurers are putting the brakes on. Zurich, for one, has scaled back significantly and is holding the line on premiums, sometimes coming in as much as three times higher than hungrier rivals.

But it’s also an opportunity. Rates are on the rise this year, and as capacity disappears

the market will rev up. Neil Utley’s a canny operator and his strategy speaks volumes. Meanwhile, Liberty Syndicates announced its decision to enter the market this week. And although LV= is coming in for some flak for its eager pricing strategy, it insists that it is building volume at sustainable rates.

The motor market is finally entering a new cycle – and the race is on. IT