March sales put car market on road to another record year

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The Independent Online

Car retailers yesterday predicted another record year for sales after registrations in March beat expectations to reach a new all-time high.

Car retailers yesterday predicted another record year for sales after registrations in March beat expectations to reach a new all-time high.

New car sales last month rose 4 per cent to 423,727 as consumers flocked on to the forecourts, attracted by lower prices, cheap financing deals and the new "02" plates.

Alan Pulham, director of the Retail Motor Industry Federation, said the market was "on route for another record year".

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which compiles the monthly figures, predicted that sales for this year could come close to last year's record 2.46 million.

However, the SMMT cautioned that higher interest rates and the likelihood of tax rises in this month's budget could dampen demand in the second half of the year.

March has become a focal month for the car market, accounting for about a fifth of sales, now that registration number plate changes occur twice a year.

The record March total meant that sales for the first quarter of the year were the best ever. It also took the rolling total for the past 12 months to more than 2.5 million sales.

All sectors of the market – private, fleet and business – showed improvements last month but the biggest growth was in sales to business customers where demand rose by 7.2 per cent.

Almost three-quarters of all cars bought in March were imports. The Ford Focus again headed the best sellers' list for the 23rd consecutive month, helping Ford maintain its market leadership.

However, there were also strong performances from Continental manufacturers such as BMW, Citroën, Peugeot and Renault while MG Rover improved its market share.

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