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Wednesday, June 10, 1998 Published at 13:41 GMT 14:41 UK


Car plates 2 B changed

Plates: Often an important social symbol

Transport Minister Gavin Strang: 'We want new number plates to be readable and memorable'
British car number plates are to be changed after 30 years of a system which has spawned one-upmanship and neighbourly rivalries.

From next year the system which saw a new letter for each new year on number plates will be scrapped in favour of two annual changes.

The government has made the change after pressure from the motor industry.

[ image: Dawn of motoring: No need for plates]
Dawn of motoring: No need for plates
Car sales and production schedules are annually thrown into chaos as buyers rush to dealers' forecourts ahead of the August 1 change to be the first with the new year-identifier letter on their vehicle.

But from 1999 the plates will change in March and August, spreading car sales more evenly throughout the year.

Registration plates will also carry letters marking the area where the vehicle is from in an effort to help the police tackle theft. The new system is expected to last 50 years.

Ford's UK chief, Ian McAllister, also president of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, welcomed the move.

He said "Customers will gain from a more rational system that takes the pressure out of buying a new car in August.

[ image: Mass motoring demanded change]
Mass motoring demanded change
"Also, the new system will ease the burden on manufacturers who have to gear their production cycles to cope with the existing unnatural rise in demand."

The new number plates are divided into three sections.

Three letters particular to the car will be followed by two digits indicating its age - replacing the current letter system.

The final two letters on the plate will mark the location where the car was registered, so for example, a car bought in London in 1999 could have the registration ABC 01 LN.

Personalised plates such as JIM 01 AB will still be available.

August sales demand

[ image: Now there's no need to all rush at once]
Now there's no need to all rush at once
Last August saw a record 525,000 new cars sold - about one quarter of entire sales in 1997.

The August system began in 1967 when the car licensing authorities put a letter A after the numbers on the registration plate.

Once the alphabet was exhausted, with some letters omitted because of possible confusion in identifying them, the letter was moved to the front of the plate.

The system has been popular with new car buyers in the UK.

Car buyers living in the same street have entered into an unspoken rivalry for years with neighbours seemingly trying to outdo each other.

For many people there is no greater sign of affluence than acquiring an "F reg" model, leaving neighbours fuming behind their net curtains with only their passť "E reg" car from last year.

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