Private buyers desert car showrooms

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The Independent Online

New car registrations fell for the 11th consecutive month in May, statistics showed yesterday. While the headline figure from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, of 150,431 new registrations, was down just 1.7 per cent on last year – the smallest drop since they started to fall in July 2010 – sales were propped up by fleet and business buyers.

Confidence among individual consumers remains at rock bottom, with new registrations tumbling 15.3 per cent to 60.964 in May, with the Government's austerity drive, falling wages and uncertainty about interest rates combining to make people reluctant to commit to major purchases. Fleet sales, by contrast, grew 11.1 per cent to 83,120.

The year-to-date figures also illustrate the industry's difficulties – in the first five months of 2011 new registrations were down 7.3 per cent to 846,513. Among private buyers, they fell 18.9 per cent to 365,396.

Reaction to the figures was mixed. Paul Everitt, the chief executive of the SMMT, hailed the "strong performances in the fleet and business sectors". He admitted that consumers remain cautious but said: "With significantly improved fuel economy, service plans and more affordable finance, there is great value on offer across the market."

The SMMT also said the "car scrappage" scheme, designed to boost sales at the height of the recession by giving consumers an incentive to replace older cars, had largely worked its way through the system.