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UK car market slumps to 'worst since 1966'

Rafay Ansar



Credit crunch, spiralling oil prices, fragile consumer confidence... It's small wonder that the UK's car market is in turmoil. Figures just out confirm that buyers are shunning dealerships in droves – with the slowest August since 1966.

The news is further confirmation that 2008 is shaping up to be the toughest year of the decade. Trade forecasts are now being cut, predicting new-car sales of 2.26 million this year and just 2.16m in 2009. That's right: it's going to get worse before it gets better...

Why Britain's car market is slumping

August is traditionally the slowest month in the calendar, taking just 3 percent of sales as buyers hang out for the new registration letter in September. But even so, just 63,225 new car sales in one of western Europe's biggest car markets is alarming.

That represents a drop of 19 percent on last August and the UK's car market is running at 4 percent down on last year. 'The slowdown in the UK mirrors the difficult conditions being experienced across the main European markets,' said Paul Everitt, chief executive of trade body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

The bosses of the companies he represents might put it a bit blunter. This is a slowdown of epic proportions after several years of booming car sales earlier in the decade.

Is it all gloom and doom?

It's not all bad news. Supermini volumes are up and they now account for a third of the new-car market, according to the SMMT figures. And – in a sign that sky-high pump prices are continuing to affect buyer behaviour – the share of diesel models has jumped again to 44 percent of all purchases.

CAR Online has analysed the latest figures to see which brands are sinking and soaring in a tough 2008. The following are the best- and worst-performing big name manufacturers who've posted double-digit percentage rises or falls:

THE WINNERS – UK sales volumes increases, year-to-date 2008

Chevrolet +13 percent
Daihatsu +15 percent
Dodge +54 percent
Jaguar +12 percent
Kia +25 percent
Lotus +11 percent
Nissan +16 percent
Smart +105 percent
Volvo +20 percent


THE LOSERS - UK sales volumes falls, year-to-date 2008

Aston Martin -26 percent
Bentley -18 percent
Chrysler -20 percent
Citroen -13 percent
Honda -10 percent
Jeep -20 percent
Land Rover -16 percent
Lexus -24 percent
Peugeot -13 percent
Porsche -27 percent
Renault -16 percent
Saab -25 percent
Suzuki -13 percent

Source: SMMT

Tough times ahead for the industry. But it's telling that all the firms on the up either concentrate on, or offer, small, lightweight cars – many of them available with cutting-edge diesel or efficient small petrol powerplants.

Smart may still be a tiny player, selling just 5000 cars so far this year, but it can't be coincidence that the brand's sales have doubled in 12 months. Go figure, as they say...
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