Latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) revealed that 438,075 cars were sold last month, an all-time record for March.
Demand was up 3.4% on the same time last year, with 14,348 more units sold. Private, fleet and business registrations all reported year-on-year growth last month. Private sales jumped 4% to 232,803, while fleet sales were up 1.1% to 161,122. Business sales to sub-25 vehicle fleets were up 9% to 44,050.
For the year-to-date, both the private and business markets are up compared to 2002, with 358,505 private cars sold and 72,722 business cars sold, a rise of 0.9% and 3.9% respectively. However, fleet sales are down 5.3% so far this year, at 281,713.
The record March total has placed this first quarter on a par with last year's record level, setting the market up to achieve its 2.4 million unit forecast, although this would be down 6.4% on 2002's all-time record.
SMMT chief executive, Christopher Macgowan, said: 'The marked growth in the private registrations shows continued consumer confidence in the new car market. The cut in base rates and availability of cheap finance is helping maintain spending levels, while attractive deals are enticing people into showrooms.'
Diesel demand continues to rise, with registrations up 24.1% in March. Diesel cars accounted for 25.6% of the March new car market and 26% of all cars registered for the year-to-date. The Ford Focus, named best lower medium car in the Fleet News Awards 2003, remains the overall best seller.
Total commercial vehicle sales, including buses and coaches, also reached record levels, up 24.3% to 48,834, the biggest March on record. Demand for light commercial vehicles was up 25.4% last month to 42,567, leaving them 14.5% ahead of 2002 so far this year, at 76,780.
Macgowan added: 'This record level of capital investment is splendid news. It helps balance gloom in other areas and is significant, as van and truck sales are a good barometer of the nation's economy.'