Figures for UK car sales in July have just been published and, to be honest, I’ve seen prettier train wrecks.

GMSGMCN_05 I’m sure times have been tougher before, but I’m not sure the market has ever turned quite so squarely on its heels and started marching quite so swiftly in the other direction. Overall the market is 13 percent down on the same month last year but many big names were off by over 20 percent and a few luxury brands are selling more than 40 percent fewer cars than they were this time last year.

Car dealers have not often figured high on my list of people to feel sorry for in any given week, but at the moment my thoughts are with them. Globally the situation looks little better: you know things are bad when BMW starts issuing profit warnings, something it did as recently as last Friday.

In the circumstances, crumbs of comfort are harder to find than ever, which means it’s more important than ever to go looking for them. And this month, you can find them in the most unlikely places. Alfa Romeo, for instance, improved its UK sales by nearly 17 percent, an outstanding achievement in this climate, but that seems like small fry compared to the almost 30 percent upturn in Jaguar’s business as the excellent XF replaces the S-type. After so many years charting its agonising downward spiral, it is joyous to see the trace kick up again.

But even this (and, indeed the astonishing 64 percent increase in Volvo sales) can’t mask the cold truth that a bad market seems to be getting rapidly worse.

Rightly the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (the body that represents car makers in this country) urges us to treat these numbers with some caution: July is always a relatively quiet month for car sales, as is August. So it won’t be until early October, when the figures for all-important September registrations come in that we’ll know for sure if we’re dealing with an uncomfortable but manageable slow down, or a market in headlong retreat.

Until then, the wait for car makers, importers and dealers up and down the country will seem interminable.