Massive preregistration by carmakers and dealers failed to push the September new car market past the psychologically important 400,000 mark and it finally stalled at 386,999 units, the low end of most industry forecasts.
Dealers say customers are confused about new car values and despite strong marketing offers such as free insurance and maintenance, many retail buyers are waiting for the significant price cut which they now expect to come in the new year.
There is clear evidence of preregistering last month to bolster the new V-plate market. Confidential figures obtained by Automotive Management reveal Ford dealers registered more than 8,800 cars in the last two days of the month and more than 26% of the company's total units in the last five trading days.
Ford dealers said they were under pressure to register more Focus demonstrators from the middle of the month and 'used' V-plate Focus is already available on nearly-new and franchised dealer forecourts.
Other carmakers were equally guilty. Citroen notched up 34% of its registrations in the final five days - Honda and Renault scored 27% over the same period. The physical evidence is clearly visible at car supermarket operations such as Motorworld, Motorpoint and Trade Sales.
The September total takes the year-to-date to 1,820,096 units, 1.3% down on the corresponding period of last year. Most dealers expect the market to fall further as customers hold back for the new year. September was 137% bigger than last year but a more realistic, three-month, comparison over July to September shows the market down 11%.
All the major players lost sales, with Rover the hardest hit, though the group did make some recovery in September with Rover 75 entering showrooms. Vauxhall continues to make ground on Ford at the top of the table.