War with Iraq could cost the UK motor industry £1 billion in new car sales, independent price monitor CarPriceCheck.com says.

Since March 1, when registration plates changed, the number of people looking to buy a new ‘03’ registered model has slumped by 35%, CarPriceCheck said.

The company believes between 60,000 to 80,000 sales will be lost in March and April alone and that the downturn is out of manufacturers' hands and only a quick resolution will restore confidence.

CarPriceCheck managing director Steve Evans said: "Car buying activity was holding its own during the latter stages of February as interest in the new registration [plate] took hold. But as the Iraq crisis has gathered momentum, consumer interest literally seems to have fallen away.

"From experience of the September 2002 registration trend, we know that business and fleet sales are likely to show a significant jump followed by an increased availability of pre-registered cars in about three to four months' time."