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Buyers still staying away

The expectation that new car prices are set to fall continued to keep customers away from showrooms last month, and dealers say demand for the new registration plate in March is weak.

Despite insistence by carmakers that they will stand firm on prices, the message is not believed by private buyers who are either delaying purchase or, increasingly, buying from mainland Europe through brokers.

There is unlikely to be a change before the Government makes its long-awaited statement on the conclusions of the Competition Commission report into pricing. That is likely to be late March or early April but, even then, it could be several months before public confidence is restored.

Adrian Rushmore, Glass's Guide chief car editor, said: “Consumers still fervently believe they are being taken for a ride because motor manufacturers have been unable to counter the widespread attacks headlined in the media. This is in spite of evidence that transaction prices are now lower than ever.”

Government figures show new car prices have been falling since February last year, but Glass's estimates that up to 20,000 new car sales could be lost in March because of the private buyer boycott. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders continues to be bullish about prospects and said it expected a market higher than last year's total of 370,060.

February's total of 73,735 units, according to the SMMT, was slightly ahead of forecasts, despite representing a 12.3% drop on the corresponding month last year.

Registrations for the first two months of the year are down 2.7% to 258,775 but detailed analysis of the figures reveals that private customer sales are down by 11.6% year-on-year and fleet demand is flat.

Only the relatively small 'business car' market - the company purchases into fleets of fewer than 25 cars - shows any sign of growth. There is plenty of evidence that is being driven by manufacturer preregistration and finance incentives.

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