New car registrations fell by 30.5 per cent in March, according to the latest figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
Sales were down to 313,912 units, with the market in the first three months of the year falling by over 200,000 units, representing a drop of 29.7 per cent.
Despite the slowdown, the mini sector bucked the trend by rising 84 per cent in March after the arrival of new models in the last 12 months.
The best-selling model for the fifth successive month was the Ford Fiesta, helping the share of mini sector increase to 36.6 per cent from 35.9 per cent in March 2008.
Diesel penetration also increased by 3 per cent in the month, to 43.4 per cent up from 40.4 per cent in the same period last year.
Over the past five years March has generally seen strong car sales, and the figures for March 2009 have come as a disappointment to the UK car industry.
Repeating his request for scrappage schemes, SMMT’s chief executive, Paul Everitt, has called on Alistair Darling to support the industry by announcing market incentives in his budget report.
He said: ‘March new car registrations are a barometer of confidence in the economy, from businesses and consumers alike.
‘The fall in the market shows that government needs to do more to boost confidence.
‘A scrappage scheme will provide the incentive needed, and the evidence is clear that schemes already implemented across Europe do work to increase demand.
‘The UK is the only major European market not to implement a scheme.’
The SMMT has forecast volumes to drop below 1.7 million units by the end of the year, as difficult market conditions continue to make an impact across all fuel and vehicle types.