New car sales dipped last month but not by as much as expected, figures today showed.
A total of 63,424 vehicles were registered in February 2011 - only 7.7% down on the February 2010 figure, which was boosted by the Government's car scrappage scheme, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said.
February is a quiet month for the motor industry, with many consumers waiting for the March new number plate.
This was the eighth successive monthly fall in sales, but the effect of the scrappage scheme has to be taken into account when making comparisons.
The SMMT said the scrappage scheme accounted for around 20% of sales in February 2010 and that the February decline was the smallest in the last eight months.
The February 2011 sales figure was 14.5% up on February 2010 but 18.1% away from the 1999-2010 average for February.
Sales are more than 10% down so far this year compared with the January-February 2010 period, with the SMMT reckoning that registrations will fall around 8.3% over the first six months of 2011 before picking up in the second half of the year.
SMMT chief executive Paul Everitt said: "The UK motor industry is looking for a strong March market to help boost confidence and kick-start demand for the new 11-plate.
"February new car registrations were better than expected and while below 2010 levels, they were significantly ahead of 2009 and on an improving trend."
He went on: "This month's Budget will be critical in determining consumer and business confidence and the ongoing stability of the market.
"We're looking for certainty on motoring taxes, a freeze on fuel duty and measures that support business investment and access to finance and credit."
Sales of minis and superminis, which were particularly boosted by the scrappage scheme, fell last month, but executive cars, luxury saloons, sports cars and MPVs all did well in February 2011.
Demand for diesel cars rose 8.9%, with diesel taking a more than 50% share of the market.
The 10 top best-selling cars in February 2011
1. Volkswagen Golf
2. Vauxhall Corsa
3. Ford Focus
4. Ford Fiesta
5. Vauxhall Astra
6. Vauxhall Insignia
7. Vauxhall Zafira
8. Volkswagen Polo
9. Nissan Qashqai