Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders showed that car sales last month rose by just 2.2 per cent on August 1995 to 479,407, largely due to lower-than-expected interest from private buyers. The figure compared with expectations that the August market would hit between 485,000 and 500,000.
Ernie Thompson, the SMMT's chief executive, responded to the disappointing figures by calling on the Government to change the current registrations system whereby the new year identifier is introduced every summer.
The Department of Transport is about to publish a consultative document setting out a range of options. The one favoured by the motor industry is to move to quarterly changes in the prefix to smooth out car sales through the year.
The call was backed by the director general of the Retail Motor Industry Federation, Christopher Macgowan, who forecast that unless the system was changed August would be accounting for 30 per cent of annual sales by the end of the decade.
Mr Thompson said that a change in the registration system would reduce the industry's costs and allow customers greater freedom to choose when to buy.
August is traditionally the month when private buyers come out in force. Although they accounted for 57 per cent of sales last month - the same as in August the previous year - the retail market overall grew by less than 1 per cent compared with a 20 per cent rise in July.
Imports took just under 63 per cent of sales compared with 60.6 per cent last year. Ford held onto market leadership with 18.7 per cent.