New car sales slumped again last month, dragging total sales for 2008 down 11.3 per cent compared with 2007.
A total of 108,691 new cars were registered in December - 21.2 per cent down on the December 2007 figure, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said.
Sales for the whole of 2008 totalled 2,131,795 - down from 2,404,007 in 2007, with the SMMT forecasting that this year will be considerably worse.
The December figures took the decline in sales for the last three months of 2008 to 27.2% and meant that the year-end total was the lowest annual figure since 1996.
The SMMT reckons sales will fall to 1.78 million in 2009 - the lowest annual total since 1992.
The December 2008 fall was the eighth successive monthly decline.
SMMT chief executive Paul Everitt said today: "The global economic downturn, precipitated by the crisis in the international banking and finance sector, created unprecedented challenges for the UK automotive industry in 2008.
"The measures taken by the Government to support the banking sector and kick-start demand have been necessary, but are not yet sufficient to restore confidence. Further action to ease access to finance and credit across the economy is essential if long-term damage to valuable industrial capability is to be avoided.
"2009 will be another difficult year for the UK automotive industry with new vehicle registrations and production significantly reduced.
"The industry faces these challenges stronger and more resilient than in recent memory. The extraordinary circumstances we currently face mean that Government support will be required to take advantage of global economic growth when it returns."
The only glimmer of hope for the industry came in the fact that the December 2008 slump was less than the 35 per cent dip in sales expected. The SMMT said the cut in VAT on 1 December "could be a contributory factor".
Taking last year as a whole, diesel sales fell for the first time since 1999 - dipping 4 per cent. But diesel still accounted for a record share of the overall market, up from 40.2 per cent in 2007 to 43.6 per cent in 2008.
Private sales were down 14.7 per cent for the whole of 2008.
For December alone, diesel sales slipped 18% and private sales were down 23.7 per cent.
Demand for smaller cars outweighed that for larger vehicles in 2008, with the mini segment the only one to record any growth.
The Ford Fiesta was the best-selling vehicle in December 2008, but the top seller for the whole of 2008 was the Ford Focus.
These were the top-selling cars in 2008:
1. Ford Focus 101,593
2. Vauxhall Corsa 99,574
3. Ford Fiesta 94,989
4. Vauxhall Astra 90,641
5. Volkswagen Golf 65,029
6. Peugeot 207 53,462
7. BMW 3 Series 49,384
8. Ford Mondeo 44,150
9. Vauxhall Zafira 43,169
10.Vauxhall Vectra 42,555