THE start of September marked the arrival of the half-yearly shot-in-the-arm for the UK car industry with the release of the new 63-prefix number plates.
Somehow these little landmarks don’t seem to carry the same visual impact as they did in the days when a shiny new prefix or suffix letter was unveiled and those so inclined would delight in spotting them in their first day or two – like listening for spring’s first cuckoo.
It seems a touch odd that such small adventures can deliver such widespread joy to so many and that the prestige of owning a car with trendy new digits on its number plate can cause a multi-million pound surge in new car sales and salesmen’s commission.
That it does, though, is an enduring cause of celebration for motor manufacturers and dealers the length and breadth of Britain – and in tough economic times, any boost is to be welcomed.
Indeed, if the facts and figures being churned out by the industry are anything to go by, better days have either arrived or are just around the corner. New car sales are up right across the board and all the indicators suggest the trend will continue.
According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), new UK car registrations in the first seven months of this year were up almost 10.5 per cent on the same period last year. In July the UK car market recorded its 17th successive monthly rise. By the end of the month, total sales for 2013 had hit 1,320,603.
Retail sales have seen a huge jump in market share of more than 20 per cent. What have become known as AVFs, which has nothing to do with Aston Villa but stands for alternatively fuelled vehicles, has seen the biggest leap in market share with a 26.2 per cent increase and a total of 17,859 being sold between January and July.
Registrations of plug-in cars rose 70.7% over the first seven months of 2013, to 1,885 units. Fleet sales still represent just over half the total market, although sales were actually down slightly.
The good news goes on: motorists switching in big numbers to more fuel-efficient petrol-engine cars have helped reduce the average CO2 output.
The SMMT has now raised its forecast for total new car sales in 2013 to more than 2.2 million, which is a whopping 8.4 per cent up on 2012.
A spokesman said: “Strong business and consumer confidence in July saw the new car market continue to rise. We have evidence of consistent growth. Car manufacturing is continuing to follow the wider UK trend for more positive economic growth with a 7 per cent rise in July, supporting a 1.9% increase in the year so far.”
The best-sellers chart this year is as usual dominated by Ford and Vauxhall, with the Fiesta and Focus in the top two places, followed by the Corsa and Astra. Volkswagen are close behind with the Golf and the Polo.
As the health of the car industry is often seen as a barometer gauging the nation’s economic wellbeing, it may be that there really is a little light at the end of Britain’s tunnel.