Car sales buck trend with 2.4 million registrations in 2007

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The Independent Online

Most of the retail sector may be experiencing an uncomfortable slowdown, but on the garage forecourt business is, so far, relatively brisk, thanks to buoyant fleet sales.

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturing Traders (SMMT), UK new car registrations rose 3.1 per cent in December from a year earlier, with 137,960 new cars registered. A total of 2.4 million new cars were registered last year, compared to 2.34 million in 2006 a rise of 2.5 per cent. Imports again accounted for about 85 per cent of the market.

"Last year, demand for new cars was stronger than many had predicted," Paul Everitt, chief executive of the SMMT, said. "There is little sign that the US credit crisis or rising fuel prices have affected demand, and we foresee only limited changes through 2008," he added. The SMMT is, however, forecasting sales of new cars at 2,335,000 this year, a fall of almost 3 per cent.

Smaller cars and diesels were responsible for much of 2007's growth, spurred on by increasing taxation of polluting vehicles and the relative fuel efficiency of diesel-engined models at a time of rapidly escalating fuel costs. Diesel-powered cars took 40.2 per cent of the market in 2007, up from 38.2 per cent in 2006. The average carbon dioxide emission from a new car sold in Britain fell by 1.4 per cent, to 164.9g per kilometre travelled. Fleet and business car sales rose by more than private car sales, which fell in December compared with a year earlier.

The UK's bestselling model is the Ford Focus, with 126,928 units sold in 2007. The British-built Vauxhall Astra (113,894) is in second place. Ford was also the market leader overall, commanding 14.5 per cent of sales. Following Ford are Vauxhall, Volkswagen, Peugeot and Renault. BMW, once a niche player, is the UK's sixth biggest brand, outstripping Toyota. In terms of winners and losers, SsangYong, Smart, Chrysler, Jaguar, Kia and Subaru brought up the rear of the table, seeing sales decline by a fifth or more.

The SMMT figures confirm the eclipse of MG Rover is complete, with 200 sales registered in 2007; the last three new and unregistered Longbridge-built cars went to auction last month.