UK consumers bought a third fewer cars in December 2010 than they did the previous year. This was partly due to the scrappage scheme inflating the previous year's demand, but it's not good news for the industry, given that sales were expected to peak in advance of the VAT rise in January 2011. Fleet sales were more buoyant, and overall the UK car market rose 1.8% over the year.
The SMMT expects 2011 to be tougher, with total sales going down 5%.
That's not the end of the bad news. Increasing fuel prices may depress sales of thirstier models, and indeed may reduce miles driven. Increasing energy and raw materials costs will likely squeeze manufacturers' margins, and the expected interest rate increases along with other adverse economic conditions could reduce consumers' disposable income.
Oh, and 19 electric cars were sold in December, thanks to Philip Hammond's electric revolution.
What does all this mean for UK transport policy and for the environment? Probably not much. Fewer cars being manufactured means less emissions from car plants and upstream processes, but the average emissions won't improve as fast as it might if existing cars were replaced with more fuel-efficient models. It seems unlikely that Britain's love affair with the car will end - just that the average age of its cars will increase a little. The Government is doing nothing to reduce car use or promote alternatives, and train fares are increasing faster than car running costs.