LONDON - New-vehicle sales in Western Europe recovered in September after the previous month's downturn. The 1.34 million total represented a 22.2 percent rise from September 1998.
But the figures were distorted by a massive 136.9 percent jump in the United Kingdom. Excluding that, European registrations were up just 2.2 percent.
United Kingdom sales rose from 163,380 in September 1998 to 386,999 in September 1999. The increase was because of a change in license-plate systems. The United Kingdom moved to a twice-yearly license-plate change this year, in March and September. Before, it changed plates only once a year, in August. Many consumers made their purchase in September.
Still, the United Kingdom's total was below the 400,000 to 425,000 figure the industry had hoped to achieve. The numbers reflect a crisis of consumer confidence in the United Kingdom's motor trade, as manufacturers come under attack for overcharging British buyers. Vehicle prices are traditionally higher in the United Kingdom than in the rest of Europe.
The United Kingdom's Consumers' Association took a stand at last month's London motor show to protest high prices. Its message: 'Stop the Great British Car Rip-Off.' Saab already has cut its prices in the United Kingdom by between 5 percent and 10 percent. The signs are that consu mers there think other manufacturers will follow and so are delaying their new-car purchases.
After 23 months of continuous growth, France registered a 9 percent decrease from September 1998 levels.
For the year through September, sales in Western Europe are up 6.2 percent from a year ago.