During last month, 208,976 cars were sold, topping a monthly sales record of 191,276 units that has stood since April 1989 and a jump of 16.1% compared to April last year.
The landmark was also the 19th consecutive month of sales growth and prompted the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders to increase its estimate of new car sales figures for the year by 50,000 units to 2.4 million, just short of last year's all-time record.
Fleet sales for April were up 6.7% at 83,847 units, while small fleets of less than 25 vehicles took 17,363 vehicles, up 16.4% year-on-year.
However, private buyers continue to be the driving force behind total increases, accounting for a 24.5% jump to 108,126 sales last month.
The Ford Focus achieved a key milestone last month, achieving two years at the top of the sales charts, including first place in the fleet sales charts.
However, the Ford Mondeo failed to reflect the success of its smaller sibling, with sales for April down 25.8% at 4,610 units. Russell McGill, Ford fleet marketing manager, attributed the decline to this year's later calendarisation of the company's sales to daily rental companies, and said Mondeo sales would start to filter through this month.
Overall, Ford topped the April fleet sales charts with 19,326 units, down 2.2% compared to April 2001.
Individual fleet car sales successes last month included the Vauxhall Corsa, up 60.7% with 4,001 sales, Volkswagen Golf, up 46.1% at 3,012 units and the Vauxhall Zafira, up 108.2% at 2,513 registrations.
For the year-to-date, the Focus remains the number one fleet car, with 39,411 sales this year, up 15.8%, while the Mondeo is third, with 20,210 sales, down 9.1%. Vauxhall takes second place in the year-to-date fleet market with the Astra (25,880), fourth with the Vectra (18,651) and fifth with the Corsa (17,445).
Volkswagen is enjoying the best of the market, with a 29.8% increase in fleet sales so far this year, at 28,143, and a 35.4% increase in April, with more growth to come as recently signed fleet deals start to generate orders, according to Vincent Kinner, Volkswagen's head of fleet.
'It's also due to better availability of product so that we can cope with demand, and Passat is fully available this year,' he said.
Kinner said the company had grown its share of the leasing market by a few percentage points, and denied that rental and Motability were accounting for a significant share of the fleet sales.
'So far this year we have sold fewer than 400 Polos and 435 Golfs to Motability, and we only deal with five rental firms and they only buy 1,000 cars each from us in a year,' he said.
Toyota is also enjoying a strong 2002, with fleet sales up 21.8% at 13,806, as the new Corolla comes on stream.
However, Fiat's fleet sales are down 15.5% year-on-year, although the firm insisted the drop fitted its planned strategy of reducing commitments to the daily rental market.
Richard Hogarth, Fiat fleet director, said: 'We took the decision a year ago to dramatically reduce our rental sales and focus on other areas of fleet sales. The fleet sales team has increased from six staff to 30 as a result.
'The fall in rental sales is actually larger than the reduction in our total sales, but there has been an incremental increase in other fleet business.
'We are still involved in rental, but in a much more structured way.'
Throughout the market, fleet diesel sales continued their relentless march upwards in April, accounting for 30.7% of sales, some 25,657 cars, a rise of 56.3% compared to the same month last year. Ford was the best-selling diesel manufacturer, with 4,402 sales, up 20.5%, and the Mondeo was top-selling diesel car, with sales of 1,835, up 10.9%, beating the Focus into second place, with 1,826.
Volvo made a dramatic entrance into the fleet diesel top 10, taking ninth place with 626 sales last month, a rise of 3,582%.
For the year to date, diesel sales account for 28.6% of the fleet market, at 108,656 units, a rise of 54.9%.
The Ford Focus remains at the top of the fleet diesel sales charts, with year-to-date sales of 8,312.
Star diesel performers in fleet include the Volkswagen Passat, with 6,804 sales, up 120.5% and the Audi A4, with 3,717 units, up 296.3%. The Rover 75 diesel sold 1,531 units, a rise of 113.2% compared to the same period last year.
Ford tops the overall fleet diesel sales figures for 2002, with 18,808, up 35.5%, while every manufacturer in the top 10 has seen sales rise by more than 30%. Renault's diesel sales are up 189.4%, at 8,100, Audi is up 177.7% at 6,218 and Volvo is up 1,496.9%, at 2,517.
Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders chief executive Christopher Macgowan said: 'After 19 consecutive months of growth, Britain has emerged as the second largest car market in Europe. This is the only country among the big five European markets which has seen growth in 2002.
'Although the current rate of growth can not last forever, 2002 looks set to be one of the best-performing on record.'
|Best-selling fleet models (YTD)|
|Model||2002 volume||Fleet as % of range||2002 vs 2001|
Best-selling fleet cars in April
Position Model Sales
1. Ford Focus 9,235
2. Vauxhall Astra 5,311
3. Ford Mondeo 4,610
4. Vauxhall Corsa 4,001
5. Renault Megane 3,088
6. Volkswagen Golf 3,012
7. Vauxhall Vectra 2,720
8. Peugeot 307 2,685
9. Ford Fiesta 2,575
10. Renault Clio 2,573
LCV sales hit monthly high
FLEETS are driving a boom in LCV sales, with the highest April registrations for a decade.
A total of 20,497 LCVs were registered during April, a 5.4% rise compared to last year. The total market for commercial vehicles was 25,458.
The April sales figures took the year-to-date market to 105,475 sales, of which 87,543 were LCV sales.
However, most analysts expect a slightly weaker commercial vehicle market for 2002 overall, with sales down 3.6% to 302,000.