Fleet and retail sales jumped to record levels last year, with the total car market up 4.3% to 2,563,631 units, beating the record set in 2001 of 2,458,769.
Fleet sales leapt 5.72% to 1,090,398 last year, while business car sales, for vehicles provided to sub-25 vehicle fleets, were up 10.3% to 234,417.
Private buyers acquired 1,236,766 cars, a rise of just 2%, which accounted for 48.2% of the market, compared to 51.8% for fleet and business sales.
Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders chief executive Christopher Macgowan said: 'New car buyers are increasingly focusing on smaller cars and a new generation of greener diesels. These are trends we expect to continue.'
In the overall market, sales in the supermini segment rose 7.4% to 831,264. Nearly one in three new cars (32.4%) registered last year was a supermini. Sales of diesels were up 38% to 602,623 units. Diesel market share in 2002 was 23.5%, the highest ever.
Ford was the best-selling manufacturer overall in the fleet market last year and the Focus was the best-selling car in both fleet and retail sectors. In the fleet market, Ford sold 221,255 new cars, equivalent to 20.3% market share, but down slightly on last year, with the Focus taking 101,398 sales.
Ford had three top-10 best-sellers for 2002 – the Fiesta, Focus and Mondeo, which was also the best-selling upper-medium car, with 58,414 sales.
Mike Wear, fleet director of Ford, said: 'Our fleet customers again gave Ford a huge vote of confidence in 2002. We are pleased to have retained market leadership despite considerable competitive pressures.'
Much of that pressure came from Vauxhall, which came a close second with 214,206 sales, a 6.33% rise. Vauxhall had three models in the top five fleet sales positions, with Astra second on 75,190, Corsa fourth on 53,303 and Vectra fifth on 47,989.
Maurice Howkins, Vauxhall fleet sales director, said: 'We were very successful in winning some major corporate business and we had a record sales year, both for cars and vans.'
Renault achieved third place, with annual fleet sales up 16.77% to 102,272, boosted by a 25% increase in Clio registrations, followed by Peugeot (92,225), which saw rocketing demand for the 307 and continuing strong sales of the 206. Volkswagen was fifth with 81,096 sales. The biggest winner for the year was Toyota, with fleet registrations up 28% to 37,740.
The record sales year was clinched by a boom in demand during December, with 70,563 units, up 19% year-on-year, which has led to rumours that manufacturers force-fed the market by registering vehicles themselves.
Diesel sales ended the year on a high, accounting for 29.25% of the fleet market, at 316,969, a rise of more than one third. The Ford Mondeo topped the diesel sales chart, followed by the Focus, Volkswagen Passat, Volkswagen Golf and Peugeot 406. In December, there were 19,096 sales, a year-on-year rise of 27.44%.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders is predicting a slump in car sales this year to 2.3 million and manufacturers also predict a fall in fleet registrations. Vauxhall is predicting a total fleet market of about 1.02 million. However, Renault suggests the market might just fall short, at about 980,000 vehicles.
John Taylor, director of fleet and leasing for Peugeot, said: 'While overall sales will decline during the next year, I think fleet sales will remain pretty stable.'
Fleet sales have been the powerhouse of the UK car market for a decade, providing a steady source of demand for manufacturers while retail sales rise and fall.
Wear added: 'My predictionis that fleet sales will stay at just over one million, while we predict the total market will fall to about 2.4 million units.'
Vince Kinner, Volkswagen's head of fleet agreed: 'We think fleet sales will be about 1.05 million in 2003 and our market share will remain steady.'
For detailed figures on 2002 sales (pdf) click here