It was the first time that fleet sales have accounted for more than half of the January car market, but sales did not reach record levels as the twice-yearly plate change introduced last year has altered buying patterns. However, fleet sales were 7.7% up on last January's (1999: 89,353) and they were supported by a 26.3% rise in business car sales - vehicles sold to sub-25 fleets - to 20,996.
Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders' chief executive Christopher Macgowan said: 'Despite wholly inaccurate speculation that car prices will fall dramatically this year, new car buyers are back in the market.' But that view was attacked by the Consumers' Association, which claimed that the industry was 'staying afloat', mainly due to business sector buyers. Phil Evans, the association's senior policy researcher, said: 'The latest registration figures show that the industry is keeping its head above water thanks entirely to the fleet and business buyer. The buyers' strike is starting to hurt the people that it should hurt - the manufacturers.'
January's sales figures were released as a survey by Fleet NewsNet's sister print publication Automotive Management of the top 100 franchised dealers revealed that more than half supported the association's 'rip-off' Britain claims and four out of 10 wanted cheaper car imports by franchised dealers bypassing manufacturers' official channels. Meanwhile, 90% of AM100 bosses said continued pricing speculation was threatening their businesses.