The arrival of the new 09 number plates failed to revive the ailing motor industry last month, with new-car sales slumping again, it was announced today.
A total of 313,912 new vehicles were registered in March 2009 - a 30.5% fall on the March 2008 figure, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said today.
Sales for the first three months of 2009 are now down 29.7%, although small cars and diesel-powered vehicles showed a sales improvement last month.
For some time, the motor industry has been calling on the Government to introduce a car-scrappage scheme whereby owners are offered a financial incentive to get rid of their old vehicle and replace it with a greener model.
The initiative has worked well in other countries and contributed towards the 40% surge in new car sales in Germany last month.
Today SMMT chief executive Paul Everitt said: "March new-car registrations are a barometer of confidence in the economy, from businesses and consumers alike. The fall in the market shows that the 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 UK is the only major European market not to implement a scheme."
Until 1999, new number plates were introduced once a year - in August. Since then, plates have changed in March and September, with March being the largest volume month in six of the years since.
In March 2008, there were more than 451,000 new vehicles registered which was more than 21 per cent of the annual market.
This month's total was nearly 5 per cent below SMMT expectations and the society now reckons that the 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. Diesel vehicles accounted for 43.4 per cent of the market - up 3 per cent on March 2008.
The Ford Fiesta was the best-selling model for a fifth successive month in March 2009.
These were the best-selling models in March 2009:
1. Ford Fiesta
2. Vauxhall Corsa
3. Ford Focus
4. Vauxhall Astra
5. Volkswagen Golf
6. Peugeot 207
7. Audi A3
8. BMW 3 Series
9. Vauxhall Insignia