Total UK new car sales for 2001 hit an all-time record of nearly 2.5 million and fleet sales reached their second highest peak, at 1,031,429, with fleet diesel sales also setting new records.
But the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders is predicting total car sales will fall back to about 2.3 million units this year, a drop of 6.5%.
And with some economists warning of recession and predicting an increase in interest rates, leading manufacturers are expecting fleet sales to slow - perhaps to below the one million mark for the first time since 1996.
Vauxhall fleet director Maurice Howkins, said: 'With the overall market showing a decline, we are not expecting fleet sales to increase in the market overall. We are predicting about 2.3 million total sales this year and of that about 980,000 will be fleet.'
Analysts at Peugeot predict that fleet will take about 42% of the new car market, which could see fleet sales drop through the one million barrier.
John Taylor, Peugeot director of fleet and leasing, said: 'I think the market will be about stable and we are not expecting the overall market will improve on this year's sales figures.'
Peugeot saw a drop in fleet sales last year, due to the changeover from 306 to 307, and its decision to move stock from the fleet to the retail market to meet booming demand from private buyers.
Retail sales could further gain this year due to growing demand for personal leasing schemes, as employees opt for cash instead of a company car.
David Murfitt, fleet sales director for Nissan, the fastest growing fleet manufacturer of 2001, said: 'We see the overall market contracting by about 200,000 units. The big unknown is how the personal leasing market will develop this year and the effect that will have on fleet sales.'
At fleet market leader Ford, Russell McGill, fleet marketing manager, said fleet would remain the mainstay of a successful UK new car market.
'Although the fleet market could go below one million units in 2002, it has been consistent with sales levels for many years,' he said.