In an attempt to put a positive spin on February UK new car registrations off 3.2% year on year, trade group The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) noted that the month is usually quiet ahead of the twice-yearly registration plate (tag) identifier change.

“February is traditionally a slow month as new car buyers and the motor industry prepare for the surge that accompanies the March plate change. We expect to see registrations of new cars next month total around 425,000 units, worth some GBP6bn,” said SMMT chief executive Christopher Macgowan.

“Since the twice yearly plate change system came into effect in 1999, the new car market has experienced its highest demand in March.”

However, year to date registrations remained were up 2.5% to 239,189 units. Diesel demand fell slightly to 28,156 units, but still held a 38.3% market share and supermini (B-segment) demand remained strong, up 7,783 units, or 11.5%, so far.

March sales are typically the largest for the year, accounting for about 17.5% of annual registrations here in the UK. The SMMT expects a further 10,000 units decline over 2006 volumes next month, to 425,000 units.

“The slowdown reflects concerns over consumers’ ability and willingness to purchase big-ticket items, when faced with high debt levels, rising interest rates and political instability,” the trade group said.

It added that private buyer sales fell 8.7% in February while fleet sales took a record 62.7% share and is now the only category to post growth over the first two months of the year.

The Ford Focus was again top selling single model ahead of the (GM Opel) Vauxhall Astra. Peugeot had two models in the top 10, Ford and Vauxhall three each.