UK sales slide continues: ‘worst market for 17 years’

Published: 06 October 2008

Britain’s new car market is in deep trouble, official sales figures today confirm. September is historically one of the two biggest registration months of the year, as buyers rush to snap up the autumn’s new number plate – yet sales were down by a fifth last month.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which collates sales data from dealers, called it ‘stormy September’, as new-car registrations plummeted by 21 percent from last year’s figure to 330,295. That’s the lowest level since the UK switched to a twice-yearly plate change in 1999.

2008: new-car sales misery

And it’s not just a slow month: the year to date is also down by 8 percent, causing the forecasters to nudge their predictions for 2008 downwards, as the credit crunch continues to affect consumer confidence.

Paul Everitt, the SMMT’s new chief exec, said: ‘Registrations have fallen for the fifth consecutive month and represent the most difficult economic conditions the industry has faced in 17 years.’  He called on the Government to scrap planned increases in car tax that would see high CO2 polluter hammered by soaring bills.

And ACEA, the European trade body, is demanding an EU-wide incentive scheme to scrap cars more than eight years old – at a stroke removing the worst polluters and supporting new-car sales. Guess what? A significant 36 percent of cars in Europe are older than that, but we can’t see any politicians seriously undertaking anything like this on a continent-wide scale…

Is anything selling well?

Well, the Vauxhall Corsa is the first car this millennium to dislodge the Ford Focus from the top spot in the bestsellers’ chart for more than one month. It has been Britain’s most popular new car for two consecutive months.

But it’s mostly miserable news. Edited lowlights include:

• Alfa Romeo sales down 44 percent, September 2008 vs 2007
• Aston Martin -15 percent
• Bentley -48 percent
• BMW -24 percent
• Cadillac -62 percent
• Chevrolet -11 percent
• Chrsyler -69 percent
• Citroen -22 percent
• Corvette -50 percent
• Daihatsu -18 percent
• Dodge -19 percent
• Fiat -10 percent
• Ford -23 percent
• Honda -40 percent
• Hyundai -10 percent
• Jeep -61 percent
• Kia -5 percent
• Land Rover -50 percent
• Lexus -44 percent
• Lotus -19 percent
• Mazda -2 percent
• Mercedes-Benz -9 percent
• Mini -19 percent
• Mitsubishi -33 percent
• Nissan -15 percent
• Peugeot -28 percent
• Porsche -33 percent
• Renault -51 percent
• Saab -47 percent
• Seat -41 percent
• Skoda -15 percent
• Ssangyong -57 percent
• Subaru -40 percent
• Suzuki -19 percent
• Toyota -10 percent
• Vauxhall -17 percent
• Volvo -6 percent
• VW -11 percent

Only four brands posted an increase over September 2007:

• Audi +1 percent
• Hummer +25 percent
• Jaguar +4 percent
• Smart +9 percent

Analysts predict that the UK car market won’t recover until the third quarter of 2009. Sounds like there will be a heap more pain to come…

By Tim Pollard

Group digital editorial director, motoring news magnet