Business sales accounted for 11.9% of the fleet market in January, with 22,276 sales. Although the sales were down by 0.8% compared to last year, the segment's market share grew as buyers in other sectors stayed away.
Fleet sales last month were down 14.7% to 78,103, or 41.8% of the market, following the record market last year. Sales to private buyers were little better, down 5.6% to 86,390, or 46.3% of the market.
The January overall market totalled 186,769 units, down 9.1% on January 2002, leading to a market forecast from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders of 2.4 million units for 2003, down 6.4% on last year's all-time record.
Christopher Macgowan, chief executive of the SMMT, said: 'We need to caution against reading too much into one month's figures. Despite a dip in January registrations, the market is still strong. If the market reaches the predicted 2.4 million units, then 2003 will be the third strongest year on record.'
Vauxhall drew first blood in the fleet sales battle, taking first place during January with 19,502 vehicles sold, up 3.94% on last year. The Vauxhall Astra was best-selling fleet car, but the Ford Focus was best-selling car in the overall market, its 33rd month at the top, just 158 units ahead of the Astra.
It was one of only three manufacturers to increase fleet sales compared to last year, along with Audi, in seventh, up 2.97% to 2,707, and Toyota, in ninth, up 1.08% to 2,432.
Ford, in second, saw sales fall 14.53% to 14,751, Volkswagen was down 12% (6,112), Peugeot down 35% (5,789) and Renault down 39% (5,358).
Even fleet diesel sales were not immune, falling 1.51% to 25,191, or about 50% of the total diesel market. Ford held first place during January, (with the Mondeo the best-selling diesel fleet car) followed by Vauxhall, Volkswagen, Peugeot and Renault. The greatest growth in diesel sales was achieved by Volvo, in eighth, which registered 762 units, up £83.17%. Toyota, in 10th, sold 602 vehicles, up 52%.
Alan Pulham, franchised dealer director of the Retail Motor Industry Federation, said: 'It is inevitable following last year's strong demand that we will see a slowing down during 2003. This should not be taken as a sign of a weakening market.'
Threat of war fails to halt rise in van sales
COMMERCIAL vehicle sales enjoyed a buoyant new year, with demand up 12% during January to reach the third highest month on record.
Despite warnings that the threat of war in Iraq could stop fleet decision-makers from ordering new vehicles, demand continues to grow.
Total commercial vehicle sales reached 25,410 last month, while sales of light commercial vehicles were up 12.1% to 20,865. Sales of vans up to 1.8-tonnes grew 5.2% to 6,732, while vans between 1.8 and 3.5- tonnes saw sales rocket 18% to 13,537.
SMMT chief executive Christopher Macgowan said: 'The January figures were excellent in all sectors of the UK commercial vehicle market. 'Year-on-year growth was unexpectedly strong in January and followed a good performance in December. In the 2003 market we have got the fourth biggest January total ever and the best since 1990.'