And when the system was explained to them, 97% of respondents deemed it more confusing than the system it replaces.
The research conflicts with high optimism within the motor industry that the appeal of the new registration plate will help to drive new car sales to record levels next month.
Online automotive site MSN Carview carried out the study among 1,000 new car buyers, and described their lack of awareness of the new registration system as 'surprising'.
The new plate, with its combination of two-letter regional identifier, followed by a two-digit age identifier, then three random letters, certainly does not lend itself easily to marketing campaigns.
Andrew Venn, director of operations at Pendragon, the UK's largest dealer group, said: 'Normally we would be pushing the new registration letter, but '51 reg' just doesn't have the same ring as say 'X-reg' or 'Y-reg'. Traditionally, dealers sit in a room for hours coming up with slogans around the new registration, but '51 reg' has got them stumped.'