Ford, the market leader, was one of several manufacturers to report strong demand and the company has revised upwards forecasts for total UK car sales this year.
The figures coincided with the release of statistics showing that consumers took on pounds 413m more debt than they repaid in April, slightly more than the City expected but less than in the previous month. The Central Statistical Office said net borrowing on credit cards rose slightly but borrowing from finance houses fell.
Ford yesterday forecast UK car sales of between 1.95 and 2 million, revised from 1.85 million predicted at the start of the year. Ford saw a strong performance in retail sales in May as opposed to buying for company fleets.
'This suggests that if the tax rises that came through in April are having an effect it's a fairly minor one,' said a spokesman.
May's rise took the total for the year so far to 821,515, a 13.29 per cent increase on the January-May 1993 figure. The figures were a relief for the industry, which was disappointed by a 4.8 per cent year-on-year rise in April after increases of more than 20 per cent in January, 14.75 per cent in February and 14.8 per cent in March.
Some pounds 4.8bn of new credit was advanced during the month, the lowest figure since January. But the Treasury said the underlying trend was consistent with the steady rise in consumer spending.
The figures had little impact on the markets, where the FT-SE index of 100 leading shares closed 11.6 points higher at 3,009.4. The mood was uncertain after reports that US Federal Reserve officials had said US inflation was under control and growth slowing.
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