The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders is predicting overall car sales in 2002 could exceed last year's historic peak of 2.45 million cars by 2.1%, jumping to 2.51 million units following record sales last month.
Total sales for the year to date are up 7% year-on-year, at 1,543,330, boosted by the bumper July of 195,637 sales, an annual increase of 13.1%.
Within that total, fleet sales are also racing ahead, up 12.5% in July to 86,950 and 4.7% ahead to 644,498 for the year-to-date, raising the possibility the fleet car market could exceed the 1998 all-time record, when 1,055,816 fleet cars were sold.
In 1998, total sales at this point in the year were 579,032, although that was before the twice yearly plate changes.
Last year, the fleet market was only just short of a record, with 1,031,429 sales, so if the current 4.7% increase continues to the end of the year, fleet sales could reach 1.08 million units.
Diesel continues to be the dominant force in the growth of the UK fleet market. During July, fleet diesel sales were up 53.9% year-on-year, at 26,728, taking 31% of the market. For the year-to-date, they are up 47.8% at 187,125.
By comparison, while fleet petrol sales for July increased by a modest 0.5% year-on-year to 60,222, for the year-to-date, they are down 6.4% at 457,373.
In the sub-25 fleet market, there were 15,736 registrations in July, a rise of 10.3%, leading to a year-to-date increase of 10.7% to 141,575.
In both the private and fleet markets, the Ford Focus retained its position at the top of the best-sellers list, with year-to-date sales of 65,648 taking it more than 23,000 units ahead of the Vauxhall Astra in second place.
Ford also topped the overall sales charts. Manufacturers further down the pecking order are also benefiting from the fleet sales boom.
In July, Rover clinched 10th place in the fleet sales league table, with 2,429 units, a 26.3% rise on the same period last year.It also took 10th place in the July diesel sales figures, with 500 units, up 2.5% year-on-year.
A Rover spokesman said: 'Our success is not down to one thing, but the Rover 75 diesel range is very popular. We also have a new team of people, including new business development managers who joined in April.'
Peugeot was the top-selling fleet diesel manufacturer last month, selling 4,771 units, up 77.5% compared with July 2001, but the Ford Focus was the best-selling fleet diesel model.
For the year-to-date, Ford tops the diesel fleet sales league, with 35,792 units, up 35.5% on the same period last year, while the manufacturer showing the greatest increase in diesel sales is Volvo, with a 1,186% increase to 4,620 sales so far this year.
Christopher Macgowan, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said: 'The new car market has surpassed industry expectations so far this year and SMMT has revised its year-end forecast.
'If, as expected, sales hit 2.5 million units it will be another record, coming hot on the heels of last year's best-ever figures.
'July's figures alone tell a familiar story of strong demand fuelled by lower prices, low interest rates and an increasing base of new models.'
Alan Pulham, franchised dealer director of the Retail Motor Industry Federation, said: 'The slight downturn we saw in June has been corrected in July and we are definitely looking at a prediction of 2.5 million sales for the year.'