Official figures for UK new car sales in May recorded the 20th consecutive month of growth in the new car market, with retail buyers leading the charge to account for more than one in two of every new cars purchased.
In total, 208,669 new cars were registered last month, beating the May 1989 record of 199,258 units, with sales to private customers up 13.4% to 104,599 units.
For the year to date, sales are running 5.1% ahead of 2001, at 1,140,363 units, with fleet sales up 5.2% to 467,292 units, sales to businesses (organisations with fewer than 25 vehicles) up 13% to 104,879 units, and private sales up 10% to 568,192 cars.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which compiles the figures, has now revised upwards its forecasts for 2002 to about 2.4 million units, just shy of last year's total.
The fleet winners last month were Renault, with sales up 7.1% to 7,783 units compared to May 2001, Volkswagen whose sales rose 14% to 7,178 cars, Toyota which boosted its sales by 44% to 3,474 and Audi with sales up 35.6% to 2,570.
Jon Pollock, general manager for fleet at Toyota, said: 'We have seen increases across the different sectors, including contract hire, core fleet, Motability and dealer fleet business, with significant growth in small to medium fleets.
'We are seeing the benefits of some changes we made last year when we put in a team of 12 people to work with dealers for business with 25-200-vehicle fleets. We have seen them bring in about 100 new supply agreements since the beginning of this year.
'Toyota has traditionally been seen as a retail buyers' franchise, but with new products like the Corolla we are shifting the balance.'
Ford remained the UK's best-selling fleet manufacturer with 19,746 new registrations last month, 0.4% up on the same month in 2001, and the Focus was the best selling car in both the fleet and total UK markets, outselling its nearest rival the Vauxhall Astra by 63%. However, Mondeo fleet sales were 26.5% down to 4,964 units.
Vauxhall's fleet sales were down 6.4% in the month as it awaits the on-sale date of the well-received new Vectra, although fleet Corsa sales were 13% ahead making it the best-selling small fleet car for the 13th consecutive month.
The fleet diesel market in May continued its inexorable 2002 rise, increasing by 35.4% to 26,393 units, with Ford leading the market with 5,071 sales, 35.4% up on last year. In second place, a 56.7% rise in Volkswagen's fleet diesel sales saw it occupy second place in the May fleet diesel market, and the Passat and Golf were the third and fourth best selling diesel models respectively.
The Peugeot 307 made a strong showing in the fleet diesel market, as the sixth best selling car last month and sixth in the year to date fleet diesel figures, where Peugeot occupies second place behind Ford. The ageing Peugeot 406 is still the fourth best-selling fleet diesel car in 2002, behind the Focus, Mondeo and Passat.
Manufacturers benefiting particularly from the increased fleet appetite for diesel this year are Renault, with sales up 169.1%, Audi (149.9%), BMW (87.1%), Mercedes-Benz (85.9%) and Volvo (1,470.6%).