Surge in car sales comes to a halt: Fall in registrations suggests consumer recovery remains patchy

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THE SIX-MONTH surge in the new car market came to an abrupt halt in April as sales fell by nearly 2 per cent compared with a year ago.

This is the first time since last September that registrations have failed to show a year-on-year increase. The setback adds weight to indications that the recovery in consumer confidence and spending remains patchy.

Figures released yesterday by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders show that 135,469 cars were bought in April against 138,106 in the same month last year.

Roger King, the SMMT's director of public affairs, said the slight fall was not unexpected since sales in April 1992 were inflated by customers who had delayed buying cars earlier in the year because of speculation about a Budget cut in car tax.

'More important is the fact that sales have shown a rise in 10 out of the past 13 months,' he said. 'We believe we are still on course for an increase of between 5 and 10 per cent for the whole of 1993 but, in line with the state of the general economy, the new car market continues to be rather fragile.'

Despite the slight drop in April registrations, sales in the first four months of the year were 8.16 per cent up on the same period last year at 588,730.

A 10 per cent increase in sales over the whole year would lift the market by 160,000 units to 1.76 million - still down by a quarter on the record 2.3 million sales recorded in 1989.

Ford retained market leadership once again although its share of monthly sales fell from 23.5 per cent last April to 21 per cent this year. Vauxhall-Opel, the General Motors subsidiary, was in second place with 17.8 per cent of the market and Rover was third with 12.5 per cent.

Meanwhile fresh evidence emerged yesterday of the Continental slump into recession as Michelin, the French tyre manufacturer, announced plans to shed 2,950 jobs in France by the end of 1994.

The company, which employs 30,000 people in France, has already cut 4,900 jobs under a restructuring plan announced in October 1991.