The UK’s new car market looks likely to slip below the 1.7 million-unit mark this year following a 30.5% fall in sales in March – traditionally the biggest month of the year for new car sales.
Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show that sales last month were 313,912 units – down 30.5% on the same month last year.
The fall in private sales (down 28.6%) was eclipsed by greater falls in fleet registrations (down 30.2%) and business sales (fleets operating 25 vehicles or fewer), which dropped 44.7%.
Fleets adopting longer replacement cycles is one key factor in the drop in non-retail registrations, combined with a lack of general consumer confidence which is restricting small fleet acquisitions.
March has traditionally been the largest volume month for new car sales in the UK, taking the lion’s share of registrations in each of the past five years.
The 137,730-unit fall in March, allied to a drop of 202,991 over the first three months of the year, has prompted the SMMT to concede that ‘volumes could now slide below 1.7-million units by the end of the year’.
Paul Everitt, SMMT chief executive, said: “March new car registrations are a barometer of confidence in the economy. The fall in the market shows that the Government needs to do more to boost confidence.”
His call for a scrappage scheme, already implemented across several key European markets, has been echoed by fleet operators’ association ACFO (see panel), which believes that an extended scheme will kickstart used car sales, thus encouraging fleets back into buying new cars.
For March 2009, the Ford Fiesta (20,654) was once again the best-selling new car, followed by the Vauxhall Corsa (14,993) and Ford Focus (13,942).
For full sales tables, and year-to-date figures, go to www.fleetnews.co.uk