New car sales in June are highest for four years

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NEW car sales rose again last month, with foreign manufacturers increasing their share of the British market on the back of special deals and aggressive marketing.

June's sales ended 18.28 per cent up on the same period last year at 134,748 cars. It was the best June since 1990, indicating that recent tax rises have not halted recovery in the motor industry.

The figures, published yesterday by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, reveal that importers took a 57.79 per cent share of the June market against 54.48 per cent last time.

Audi almost doubled its sales to 2,780 vehicles while BMW lifted sales 41 per cent to 2,530 cars. Both German firms did badly last year and this year have backed up new ranges of vehicles with big promotions.

The pressure on dealers to cut margins has been most acute in the executive car market. Sales at Volkswagen, in the forefront of price-cutting earlier this year, rose 40 per cent to 5,911 vehicles. Volvo's UK sales rose 22 per cent.

A motor industry analyst said: 'The UK is one of the few growth areas, so overseas makers are shifting their attention here. Dealers are being forced to cut margins by up to 50 per cent and there is a wealth of promotions to get people into showrooms.'

As well as lures such as free insurance, one dealer offered pounds 40 worth of petrol to persuade potential buyers just to test drive a car.

The run-up to the key registration month of August is usually low-key, but the SMMT believes the industry's recent sales push will not affect the M-registration figures.

It predicts that August sales will be up slightly to about 445,000 and annual sales might top 1.9 million, a significant improvement on the 1.78 million sold in 1993.

Total UK sales in the first half of this year were 956,263, almost 14 per cent ahead of January-June 1993, when 839,035 new cars were sold.

Ford maintained its position as market leader in June, taking a 19.54 per cent share of the market ahead of Vauxhall in second place and Rover in third. The Ford Escort was top-selling car again, followed by the Ford Mondeo.

There were also signs that sales at the top end of the market are recovering. Twenty-four Rolls- Royce and Bentley cars were sold last month, twice as many as in June 1993. In total Rolls-Royce has sold 225 cars in Britain this year compared with 161 in the same period in 1993.