September new-car sales in western Europe bounced back from the downturn in August. They grew 21 percent compared with September 1998.
However, the figures were distorted by the change in the UK's license-plate system. The UK moved to a twice-yearly license-plate change this year, in March and September. It previously only changed plates once a year, in August.
As a result, September's UK new-car market increased 137 percent to 387,000 units compared with the same month a year ago.
Still, UK carmakers were disappointed with September's sales level. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the national trade association, had predicted sales of 400,000 units. The lower than expected sales occured even though insiders said manufacturers were registering thousands of cars to boost market share.
Pricing levels in the UK are under investigation. Consumers may have delayed new-car purchases in the hope that prices will fall in the coming months.
Most European markets were strong. An 8.9 percent decline in France was due to product shortages, said a leading industry economist. French car sales were exceptionally strong in July and August.
Spain continued to grow in September. Sales were also up in most of the smaller European markets, although the rate of increase was slower than earlier in the year.