December surge takes car sales to a record 2.58 million

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A record number of new cars were sold in the UK last year with 2.58 million vehicles leaving the forecourts, industry figures released this morning show.

The new high came after a surge in sales in December when about 155,000 new cars were registered ­ a 7 per cent increase on the same month a year earlier.

BMW alone increased its sales by about 67 per cent in December.

Foreign manufacturers took the top eight places in the sales league, with MG Rover, the sole British-owned volume manufacturer, languishing in ninth place on a market share of just 3.7 per cent.

The figures, published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, show that Ford was once again the UK's biggest car seller with a market share of 14.7 per cent.

Vauxhall took second spot with a slight increase in market share to 12.6 per cent followed by Renault, Peugeot, and Volkswagen. Citroen and Toyota vied for sixth spot with Nissan in eighth place.

Buoyed by strong consumer spending, price cuts by many manufacturers and cheap finance deals, the sales figure for the year surpassed the forecast made by the SMMT as recently as November.

The total of 2.58 million registrations for 2003 compares with the previous record of 2.564 million set in 2002 and the SMMT's forecast that the market would reach 2.565 million units for 2003. But the final figure also appears to reflect a large amount of pre-registering of vehicles by dealers to enable them to hit sales targets for the year.

BMW's huge leap in registrations in December took its sales tally for the year to just under 94,000 ­ a 9.5 per cent increase on 2002.

Together with Mini, which recorded a 14 per cent rise in sales to just over 40,000, the BMW group comfortably outsold MG Rover, its former UK subsidiary.

Other big increases were notched up by the Japanese manufacturer Mazda, which ended the year up by about 36 per cent with 38,000 sales. Toyota was up by 12 per cent while Mercedes finished the year 15 per cent higher.

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