Rover takes lead as car sales soar

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CAR SALES leapt in the first 20 days of this month, suggesting that a decisive recovery is at last under way in a key domestic consumer market.

The 29 per cent rise in sales compared with the same period last year means registrations this month have already outstripped the total for last December, and will end 1992 only fractionally down on last year's 1.59 million. Car registrations have now risen in year-on-year terms in four of the past five months.

The sharp rise may have been caused partly by buyers rushing to beat price increases being introduced in the new year by most manufacturers.

Company car sales have been more buoyant than the private market, with businesses deciding to replace fleets after having held on to them for longer than usual.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which published the figures, described the sales surge as 'extremely exciting'. It said: 'This seems to continue the trend established since the motor show that UK car sales are now in a recovery mode.'

The best performance came from Rover, which accounted for 22.4 per cent of the 59,499 cars sold. If Rover sustained its lead for the rest of this month it would be the first time in eight years that it had achieved monthly market leadership.

Ford, which is raising prices by about 10 per cent next month, saw its share fall to 18.4 per cent.

There was further cause for economic optimism in the shape of figures suggesting that companies were starting to meet customer demand by increasing output rather than destocking.

However, other figures published by the Government yesterday showed that the savings ratio in the third quarter rose to its highest rate for eight years, indicating that consumers are reluctant to spend.

The Central Statistical Office said the ratio of personal savings to consumer spending jumped to 12.3 per cent in the three months to September, a rise of almost one point over the second quarter. Redundancy payments undoubtedly helped to boost the ratio.