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UK new car sales plunge more than 30% y/y in March

  New car sales in Britain fell by almost a third year-on-year in March, industry figures showed on Monday, prompting renewed calls for government incentives for car buyers to help combat the downturn.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said new car sales were 30.5% lower last month than a year ago, at 313,912 units.

Registrations in the first three months of 2009 were 29.7% lower than a year ago, equivalent to 200,000 fewer cars sold. March figures are normally boosted by new numbers for the latest registration period.

Asked if he’d ever seen any downturn on a similar scale, Paul Williams, chairman of the Retail Motor Industry Federation, told the BBC: “No, not quite like this. This is certainly a one off, and merits one-off measures.”

Britain has already promised to guarantee up to £2.3 billion ($3.4 billion) of loans to the industry to soften the blow from the recession. Speculation is growing that it could follow Germany in introducing an environmentally-friendly car scrapping scheme.

German car dealers have reported an upturn in business after the government offered financial incentives for all new car buyers who scrap vehicles at least nine years old.

Britain’s business secretary has said he is studying the idea. Any initiative was likely to be announced in the government’s budget on April 22.

“March new car registrations are a barometer of confidence in the economy, from businesses and consumers alike,” said Paul Everitt, SMMT chief executive. “The fall in the market shows that government needs to do more to boost confidence.” (Reuters)