The Competition Commission inquiry into the new car market and resulting Supply of New Cars Order 2000 left a trail of disruption in the industry, as for much of the year buyers were uncertain what would happen to the price of both new and used cars.
However, final year figures from the SMMT show a static market matching exactly the predictions for the fleet market made at the start of last year by manufacturers, when they estimated that demand for 2000 would match 1999 levels.
The fleet market last year levelled out at 1,017,656 units, up just 484 cars on the 1,017,172 units sold to fleets in 1999, and marking the fourth year fleet sales have topped one million units. But the figures represented a fall in sales compared to the total car market, down to 45.81% compared to 46.29%. A 0.2% rise in fleet petrol car sales from 841,674 to 843,745 was offset by a 0.9% fall in diesel sales from 175,498 to 173,911. The total market for 2000 reached 2,221,647 units, up 1.1% on last year and the third highest sales figures on record, spurred on by a 27.5% rise in total December sales to 107,803 units.
However, the key increase came from a surge in demand from sub-25 vehicle fleets, with sales up 12.5% year-on-year at 210,101, making up the 1.1% rise in the new car market to 2,221,647 units.
Macgowan said uncertainty in the fleet market would be the key factor in shaping the car market over the next couple of years: 'We are predicting sales to grow to 2,250,000 units this year and then fall in 2002 to 2,200,000. There is real evidence of buyers returning to the showrooms, but that is offset as highly professional fleet businesses struggle to come to terms with the very serious residual value situation.
In contrast, Alan Pulham, franchised dealer director of the Retail Motor Industry Federation, predicted a car sales boom in 2001: 'The upwards trend in sales during the last quarter of 2000 looks set to continue further into this year with private buyers enjoying considerably lower prices and superb deals on new cars.'
CAP Motor Research's Used Car Confidence Index has shown confidence flooding back among buyers and the latest Credit Suisse First Boston New Car Price Index from eurocarprice.com confirms the gap between UK and European new car prices is reducing.
Top 10 best-selling fleet manufacturers December: Ford 12,429, Vauxhall 11,276, Fiat 4,588, Peugeot 4,202, Renault 3,662, Volkswagen 3,198, Citroen 1,866, Nissan 1,840, Rover 1,599, Toyota 1,301.
lTop 10 best-selling models in December: Ford Focus 5,262, Vauxhall Vectra 4,149, Vauxhall Astra 3,607, Ford Mondeo 2,920, Ford Fiesta 2,626, Renault Megane 2,454, Fiat Bravo/Brava, 1,831, Vauxhall Corsa 1,766, Fiat Punto 1,495, Volkswagen Golf 1,402.