Full year new car registrations are now up 7.3% year-on- year, to more than 1.6 million units, while the August market was up by 12.8% to 87,245 units, led by private buyers.
The fleet market showed a more modest increase of 1.4% compared with August 2001, but year-on-year figures for the first eight months of the year still reveal a 4.5% increase in sales.
Christopher Macgowan, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said: 'The momentum of the last 18 months has not cooled and last year's record total of 2.46 million cars looks set to topple. Of course August is really an aperitif for the September market. With the change to the registration plate, September is a key month for sales and we fully expect more than 400,000 cars to leave showrooms.'
Diesel sales are continuing to rise rapidly in fleet as a result of the new benefit-in-kind tax rules with a 37.8% rise in volume compared with August 2001, and a 47.2% rise for the year to date compared with the first eight months of last year.
Of the top 20 best-selling fleet diesel models, only the Peugeot 406 and Vauxhall Astra experienced fewer sales for the year-to-date compared with last year, with significant rises for the Ford Focus, Ford Mondeo, Volkswagen Passat, and Volkswagen Golf.
Premium cars like the Mercedes-Benz C-class, BMW 3-series and Audi A4 also had healthy increases in diesel sales.
Half of the top 10 best-selling fleet cars witnessed falls in sales during August, with the Ford Focus in the number one slot dropping by 19.3% compared with August 2001, while sales of the Vauxhall Astra, in second position rose by 36.7%, bringing the two rivals closer together.
The Ford Mondeo moved up a place in the top 10 despite a volume fall of 12.7%, while the Vauxhall Corsa fell by 48.2%.
The Fiat Punto showed an increase of more than 100%, putting the car at number seven, while fleet sales of the Peugeot 206 increased by 27.8%.
Ford's market share was squeezed again in August, down to 20.76%, compared with nearly 25% a year ago, while Vauxhall experienced a smaller fall.
Meanwhile Renault, Peugeot, Volkswagen and Nissan, all firmed up their fleet market share last month. BMW and Audi also appeared in the top 10 list for manufacturers during August with BMW (including MINI) already in eighth position for manufacturers in the year to date rankings.