September 4, 2008 / 11:47 AM / 11 years ago

Car registrations record weakest August since 1966

LONDON (Reuters) - New car registrations in Britain fell an annual 18.6 percent last month to record the market’s weakest August since 1966, a survey showed on Thursday.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said there were just 63,225 car registrations last month. The average for a month of August over the past eight years has been around 75,000.

“The August market was the lowest since 1966 and accounted for a quarter of the fall in volumes over the year to date,” the SMMT said. “The last three months account for 89 percent of the drop.”

August is traditionally a quiet month as consumers wait for a change in registration number plates in September before buying new cars. Indeed, August normally accounts for around 3 percent of annual volumes. Nevertheless the fall is seen as some indication of the strains being put on British consumer finances as the housing market bubble bursts.

“Sharply deteriorating car sales is a further clear sign that consumers are increasingly cutting back on their spending,” said Howard Archer, an economist at Global Insight.

A breakdown by sector showed new private registrations fell 23.6 percent to 23,718. Business registrations fell 36.7 percent to 2,315 and fleet registrations fell 13.4 percent to 37,192.

GM (GM.N) unit Vauxhall’s Corsa model was the best selling car in August, outselling the Ford (F.N) Focus for a second straight month. On a year-to-date basis, the places switched over with the Ford Focus retaining its top spot.

The supermini’s share of the market rose to 33.8 percent from 29.1 percent a year ago, suggesting consumers are switching to more efficient motors. Diesel vehicles also raised market share with VW’s (VOWG.DE) Golf the best selling diesel model both last month and in the year to date.

With cheap credit becoming hard to find, the SMMT said the outlook for the car market could remain difficult. It predicted new registration volumes would fall by a further 10 percent in the final four months of the year.

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