They reached an all-time May high of 92,325, beating last year's previous record of 83,366 by 10.7% as total new car sales reached 194,113 (May 1999: 175,898). The unexpected fleet surge took the 2000 fleet market to 477,445 units - 4.3% ahead of last year's five-month tally - with total new car sales reaching 1,023,085 (1999: 994,887).
Retail sales rose 4.5% year-on-year as car buyers who boycotted showrooms in expectation of dramatic falls in new car prices following April's publication of the Competition Commission's report took advantage of numerous 'spectacular deals' from manufacturers.
Manufacturers believed that in the months running up to the report's publication there was slight hold-off by fleets, which tend to replace vehicles on a standard cycle.
But following publication of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders' May figures, manufacturers were forced to change their views. Vauxhall saw its sales surge 20.2% last month and fleet marketing manager, Keith Michaels, said: 'Our performance exceeded our own forecasts. The reasons are obvious for the rise in retail sales but they are less obvious for such a significant rise in fleet sales and a record market.'
Peugeot fleet marketing manager, Arnold Bailey, agreed that a 'fleet relief valve' had been released, saying: 'There clearly was some fleet hold-off and with the Competition Commission report not resulting in the massive changes which some had expected, there has been a surge.'
Peugeot saw its sales increase 11.6% year-on-year and other big winners were Fiat (up 14.9%), Citroen (up 80.7%), Toyota (up 41.9%) and BMW (up 68.5%). Although Rover's troubles continue - May fleet sales were 9.5% down year-on-year - the monthly registration of 2,777 was improved on April's performance. Mitsubishi's recently refocused fleet sales team saw business soar 96% year-on-year last month, with sales rising from 389 units to 764.
There was also a surge in sales to small businesses with the 40.4% year-on-year rise to 19,885 units also being connected to pent-up demand being released with buyers typically following the mentality of retail buyers and looking for dealer-based offers.
After the first five months of this year Ford continues to lead the fleet market with sales up 3% year-on-year to 101,514 and in the Ford Focus it has the best-selling fleet car with sales of 33,264 - up 22.1% year-on-year.
Top 10 fleet manufacturers in May were: Ford 19,114, Vauxhall 18,752, Peugeot 8,129, Renault 7,986, Fiat 5,046, Volkswagen 4,627, Citroen 3,883, Toyota 3,481, BMW 3,073, Rover 2,777.
Top 10 fleet models in May were: Ford Focus 6,453, Vauxhall Astra 5,972, Vauxhall Vectra 5,716, Ford Mondeo 5,087, Vauxhall Corsa 3,897, Renault Megane 3,342, Ford Fiesta 3,307, Renault Clio 2,788, Peugeot 306 2,749, Peugeot 406 2,446.