Fleet registrations broke through the one million unit barrier for the year during December, ending the year at 1,031,429 units, and accounting for 42% of the total car market. This is the fifth year in a row that fleet sales have reached six figures.
The fleet market was up by just 1.4% overall, but the increase took the sector to just below the 1998 high of 1,055,816 sales.
Despite the increase, the fleet market's share of total car sales dropped from 45.81% in 2000 to a seven-year low of 41.95% last year after booming demand in the private sector sent total car sales into overdrive.
Fleet News reported last week that new car registrations soared by more than 10% last year, reaching 2,458,769, beating the previous high set in 1989. Sales to sub-25 fleets were up 2% year-on-year at 214,376 units.
Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders chief executive Christopher Macgowan said: 'In each month of 2001, the new car market grew, with the previous year-end record falling by the end of November.
'This was a year in which the sun shone on new car buyers with a more competitive market than ever before and a raft of enticing new models to tempt the buying public.'
Ford led the fleet sales charts for the year, with 223,231 units, up 0.6%, with Vauxhall also enjoying a bumper year, with 201,559 sales, up 4.1%. Renault took third place, Peugeot fourth and Volkswagen fifth.
Star fleet performers in 2001 were Volkswagen, with a 21.4% fleet sales increase, Nissan, with a 36.8% sales jump and Citroen, with a 25.8% hike in registrations.
Other notable winners included the Citroen Xsara, up 114.5% thanks mainly to demand for the Picasso mini-MPV, selling 27,789.
The Nissan Almera was also helped by its mini-MPV Tino to increase fleet sales 151.6% to 19,478.
In the overall market, several manufacturers achieved record sales, including Peugeot, topping 200,000 for the first time at 206,000, Renault (181,000), Citroen (150,000), Jaguar, topping 100,000 sales for the first time in its 80-year history, Mercedes-Benz (76,458), Land Rover (45,000), Skoda (36,053) and Suzuki (17,979).
Ford has celebrated 25 years as Britain's favourite car brand by selling 404,334 cars in total, up 8%, in the UK. The Ford Focus was the best-selling fleet car this year and also topped the retail sales charts.
Ian McAllister, retiring chairman and managing director of Ford of Britain, said: 'Since 1976, the company has sold more than 11 million cars, including more than three million Escorts and nearly three million Fiestas.'
Vauxhall led the December manufacturer sales charts, with 13,367 sales, followed by Ford (13,056), leaving other manufacturers trailing. Renault, in third, had 4,854 sales, followed by Peugeot (4,492), Volkswagen (3,664), Fiat (2,707), Citroen (2,120), Mercedes-Benz (2,118), MG Rover (2,033) and BMW (2,026).
Topping the fleet sales charts for December, as it has done for most of the year, was the Ford Focus, with 7,037 sales, followed by Vauxhall's Vectra, Astra and Corsa models, with the Ford Mondeo in fifth.
CO2 tax changes fuel a record year for diesels
FLEET diesel sales rocketed to an all-time record last year as company car drivers stampeded for low CO2-emitting vehicles in preparation for the launch of the company car tax system.
Figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders revealed that fleet diesel sales accounted for 22% of the fleet market last year, totalling 231,933 sales, a jump of 33.4% in 2000.
Ford topped the diesel sales charts with 41,195 sales, followed closely by Peugeot with 39,883 sales, Vauxhall (36,987), Volkswagen (30,769) and Citroen (17,319). Audi, BMW, MG Rover and Mercedes-Benz made up the rest of the top 10.
The Ford Focus took the crown as the best-selling diesel fleet car, following a surge in demand late in the year, although Vauxhall topped the sales figures for December, with the Vectra the best-selling diesel car of the month.
During 2001, the diesel-powered Focus sold 17,770 units, compared to the second-placed Peugeot 406, just beaten with 17,486 sales.
The Vauxhall Astra came third (15,630), while the Ford Mondeo took fourth place with 15,233 and the Volkswagen Passat was fifth (13,583).
The Vauxhall Vectra, Volkswagen Golf, Citroen Xsara, Peugeot 306 and Renault Megane made up the rest of the top 10.
Star performers in the 2001 diesel sales charts were the Volkswagen Passat, with diesel fleet sales up 109.8%, the Citroen Xsara up 152.1% and the Renault Megane up 116.9%. The Vauxhall Zafira, in 15th, doubled diesel sales last year.
SMMT chief executive Christopher Macgowan said: 'After years of decline it is heartening to see diesel sales recover during 2001.'