Embattled car dealers might try to hold onto the thought that it’s allegedly blackest just before the dawn arrives, but the latest registration figures make it clear that the motor industry is now properly into its biggest slump for nearly two decades.

There was already plenty of anecdotal evidence that showrooms had been filled with little more than tumbleweed for the last quarter – but October’s numbers make it clear that the ‘58’ registration plate-change was a complete damp squib in sales terms. The worse news is that there’s no chance things will improve substantially in the traditionally slow months of November and December.

The scariest thing for industry executives is the way that pretty much every segment is being savaged. Collapsing sales for Jeep and Land Rover in the face of squeezed credit and the £1-plus litre of fuel probably don’t come as much of a surprise. But how demoralizing must it be for companies like Honda to watch registration numbers collapse despite strong ranges and keen prices?

Some car companies take comfort in doing better than competitors. And it’s true that only losing 10 per cent when the market drops by 20 per cent could be viewed as some kind of triumph. But some car company execs make no secret of the fact that things might get substantially worse before they get better – as a senior suit at a premium manufacturer admitted to me earlier in the week, “we’re in uncharted territory here.”