Car sales highest for six years

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Car sales rose by 17 per cent last month to their highest level since for six years, providing further evidence yesterday of the steady improvement in the car market.

New registrations reached 39,150, with sales to private buyers increasing by 20 per cent.

The 17 per cent rise was the second highest this year - almost matching the April increase of 17.2 per cent. In the first seven months of 1996 sales stood at 1,039,768, which was a rise of 5.5 per cent on the same period in 1995.

The previous July peak was in 1990, when 46,000 cars were sold. Manufacturers always play down the signficance of July sales, which account for only around 2 per cent of the annual total as buyers wait for the new registration year.

But some dealers suggested the figures were another pointer to increased demand in the August bonanza. The dealers' association has forecast that sales this month will break through the 500,000 barrier for the first time since August 1989.

Ford's market share last month dropped from 23 per cent to 14.5 per cent, with the company only just managing to hold on to the number one slot.

Rover, taking second position, unexpectedly eclipsed Vauxhall, with strong demand for the 400 model. "That's the first time in a long time we've done that," a Rover spokesman said.

The proportion of imported cars continued to grow last month, accounting for more than 64 per cent of sales. This compares with a market share of 62 per cent a year ago.