There were fresh calls yesterday for a European-style car “scrappage” scheme after the new ‘09’ number plate failed to revive the ailing UK motor industry in March.
Last month’s 30.5 per cent slump in registrations in traditionally the busiest month of the year for the industry was in sharp contrast with Germany, where sales jumped by 40 per cent.
Analysts said the upturn in Europe’s biggest car market was due to the German government’s Autowrack Pramie scheme under which owners of old cars get 2,500 euros for trading them in for new, more eco-friendly models.
The UK Government says it is looking at announcing a similar scheme in the Budget on April 22.
Paul Everitt, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), said the UK is now the only major European market not to have implemented a scrappage scheme.
“March new car registrations are a barometer of confidence in the economy, from businesses and consumers alike,” he said.
“The fall in the market shows that government needs to do more to boost confidence. A scrappage scheme will provide the incentive needed and the evidence is clear that schemes already implemented across Europe do work to increase demand.”
The SMMT said a total of 313,912 new vehicles were registered in March compared with 451,642 in the same month last year.
Sales for the first three months of 2009 fell by 29.7 per cent to 480,358 units, demand for small cars and diesel-powered vehicles improved last month.
Among manufacturers, Jaguar saw its first monthly fall in sales since the award-winning XF saloon, which is built at Castle Bromwich in Birmingham, came on to the market a year ago.
Jaguar sales fell by 30 per cent to 3,018 units last month, a fall that dragged its year-to-dates figures down by 13 per cent to 4,551 units.
Sister company Land Rover slipped even further behind the record sales figures over the previous three years, registering a 37 per cent fall to 6,027 units. Sales for the first three months were 40 per cent off at 8,116. It was a similar picture for most other manufacturers last month. Mini, another recent runaway success to go into reverse, lost 33 per cent of its sales in March and was 31 per cent adrift on the year so far.
Toyota, which builds the Avensis and Auris models for European markets at Burnaston, Derbyshire, fell by 31 per cent in March, while sales of Warwickshire-built Aston Martins fell by 40 per cent to 232.
Yesterday’s figures showed that Chinese-owned MG UK, which builds sports cars on the site of the old MG Rover works at Longbridge, sold 26 limited edition models last month, bringing the total for the year to 51.
Until 1999, new number plates were introduced once a year – in August. Since then, plates have changed in March and September
The 451,642 registrations recorded in March last year accounted for more than one-fifth of the annual total for the UK.
Last month’s total was nearly five per cent below SMMT expectations and the society now reckons 2009 end-of-year sales’ figure could slip below 1.7 million.
One bright note amid the gloom last month was the rise of the mini segment, with sales increasing 84 per cent while diesel vehicles accounted for 43.4 per cent of the market – up three percentage points on March 2008.