September 2016 will go into the record books for the British car industry

More cars were sold during this particular ninth month of the year than ever before

The industry’s retail sales trade body, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), didn’t hide its delight at seeing the month’s sales hit a new high.

And with its figures also showing that the rise was being powered by a healthy increase in sales to fleet customers, the SMMT was keen to flag it up as a sign of the overall health of the UK economy.
Black and white drawing of one of the first british motor cars
Businesses can decide when they replace their fleet vehicles, so the news that bulk sales are at a new peak shows that firms are feeling confident enough about their current trading situation and future prospects to take the plunge and make the large-scale investment required.

Year-on-year car sales had almost stalled in July, registering a tiny 0.1 per cent rise. But it looks as though the added prestige of driving around in a vehicle with the newest reg plates available still has a strong pull on buyers.

We were so excited here at Swansway Group about the introduction of the new 66 plate that we published our own list of the 66 most important cars in history to tie in with the first cars carrying the plates hitting the road. Thanks to everyone who took the time to send us their comments and suggestions for this list.


A Little Plate Perspective

Of course, the record September performance has to be put into some perspective. This includes the fact that the reg plate change has only been taking place in this month since 2001. To some of you that will seem like ancient history, but considering that car number plates have been around since as long ago as 1903, it’s a pretty small period in the grand scheme of things.

So we can only compare sales figures for this month in the years since 2001, before which there was only one registration plate change every year, and for many years, the switch had taken place in August. Your author is old enough to remember passing lots of time in the first few weeks of the long school holidays enthusiastically counting how many of the latest registration plates I could spot on my regular journeys around Nottinghamshire as far back as 1970, when I was a car-mad six-year-old, and a new J-plate was the envy of plenty of other motorists.

For the car dealers, while this was a long-established tradition, it brought its own headaches. It usually meant there would be a huge spike in sales in the first few weeks of August, and business would be generally quieter for big portions of the rest of the year. 

It was in an effort to spread demand a bit more evenly through the year that we switched from one reg plate change to two annually – and by and large it’s been very successful.​


Some Numbers Are Bigger Than Others

Nevertheless, now that we’ve switched from using letters to numbers as the way to identify the year in which a car was made, there are certain numbers which are always likely to stir interest among buyers more than others.

US Route 66 red neon signThese will be numbers which have particular importance attached to them – and none has done this since the last change in plate format more than the current ‘class of 66’. In no particular order, then, here are some weird, wacky and just plain odd facts about the number 66:

  • We can find out our exact location anywhere on Earth thanks to the signals transmitted from 66 geo-stationary satellites in orbit above us.
  • In bingo the number is widely referred to as ‘clickety-click’ by callers. The origin of the link isn’t clear, but it’s likely that there’s some connection with Cockney rhyming slang
  • ​​​It’s the number of probably the most famous road in America. Route 66 was described as the ‘Mother Road’ by the author John Steinbeck. It runs from Santa Monica, California, to Chicago, Illinois. You’re probably now already humming the song (Get Your Kicks On) Route 66… well, it was written in 1946 by Bobby Troup and tells the tale of a trip along the road, name-checking lots of places along the way. It’s been covered by Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones and Depeche Mode among plenty of others.
  • The German word for the number, sechs und sechszig, has come into common use as the name for a card game.
  • 66 is the international phone dialling code for numbers in Thailand.
  • The number crops up surprisingly regularly in computing. Among other things, a computer’s overall central processing unit (CPU) speed is expressed in numbers which can be divided exactly by 66.


Lots Of Historically Important ‘66’ Years…

The ‘66’ years of many centuries have held more than their fair share of significance throughout history:Emperor Constantine V tapestry of soldiers on horseback

​66AD – the first significant rebellion against Roman rule was mounted by the people of Judaea, who captured the important fortress of Antonia. A Roman army sent to quell the uprising was destroyed on its way to Jerusalem.

766 –    Emperor Constantine V put down a plot to overthrow him, executing the leaders and blinding and exiling their followers.

866 –    Italian emperor Louis II defeated Saracen invaders who had been ravaging the south of his country.

966 –  Mieszko I of Poland, the first duke of Poland, was baptised a Christian, which was widely considered the beginning of the Polish state.

1066 – The Battle of Hastings saw King Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, take one in the eye…

1566 – King James VI of Scotland (James I of England and Ireland) was born.

1666 – The Great Fire of London happened. Starting in Pudding Lane on 2 September, it raged for four days, and destroyed more than 13,000 houses, 87 parish churches, and St Paul’s Cathedral. Poor record-keeping of the time meant that the total death toll was never properly established. A big do was organised in London to mark the event’s 350th anniversary.

1766 – Charles Edward Stuart (‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’) became the new Stuart claimant to the British throne as King Charles III and figurehead for the Jacobite movement..

1866 – One of London’s big banks, Overend, Gurney and Company, collapsed, starting the ‘Panic of 1866’, which in turn prompted a riot in London’s Hyde Park against the political establishment.

1966 – England won the football World Cup, beating West Germany 4-2 in the final at Wembley.

Bronze statue of England winning the Football World Cup in 1966


66 Plate Sets New Highs

The arrival of the 66 plate seems to have really caught lots of people’s imagination, and this has fed through into healthy sales for lots of car dealers. Nearly 470,000 new cars were registered during the month of September 2016.  That was 1.6 per cent higher than the September 2015, said the SMMT, and meant that the total number of cars registered in the first nine months of the year was 2.6 per cent higher than in 2015.

For only the second time since 2004, the annual new car registrations passed the two million mark in September (2,150,495 cars were registered Jan – Sept 2016). Explaining why you might be seeing quite a few 66-reg cars around!

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the SMMT, put his own slant on the figures, saying:

The new 66-plate, combined with a diverse range of exciting new models featuring the latest technology, has certainly helped draw buyers into showrooms and many are taking full advantage of the attractive deals and low interest financing options on offer.

He also said there was probably an element of people seizing the chance to dash down to their local car showrooms and treat themselves to a shiny new motor as a distraction from all the talk about what lies ahead for Britain as we set about disentangling ourselves from the European Union.

Many are taking full advantage of the attractive deals and low interest financing options on offer.

added Mr Hawes.

He could easily have been talking about the deals we’ve currently got for our customers at our showrooms stretching from the Midlands across to North Wales and up to Lancashire. But why not come and see us and judge for yourself?

Swansway Group have got lots of 66-plate offers across our franchises, from Alfa Romeo to Volkswagen. Bag yourself one soon, because they won’t stay around forever.