Registrations of superminis, which were just over 500,000 units a year in 1996, are now more than 850,000.
Latest sales figures for May show that registrations of small cars have increased by 5.4%, or almost 20,000 units over the first five months of 2002, with 380,451 units registered, equivalent to 34.4% of the total car market. This compares with 31.7% a year ago. Demand has been boosted by the launch of a raft of new superminis.
Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) figures show that despite a slight dip in overall sales last month, a fall of 4.1%, demand was still close to record levels, at 200,059 units. New car registrations are expected to reach 2.45 million units this year, making it the third highest year on record.
SMMT chief executive Christopher Macgowan said: 'In a fiercely competitive market, sales remain stable despite a decline on the extraordinary figures of 2002. May delivered convincing results and is the second highest on record. The market is above expectations, with small cars driving the market to its predicted volume of 2.45 million units.'
In May, private sales were down by 6% to 98,313, while sales to fleets of less than 25 vehicles were up by 8.3% to 18,460.
In the fleet market last month, demand was down by 4.3% overall, driven by a 7.17% fall in petrol sales, while diesel increased by just over 2%.
The Ford Focus retained its traditional slot at the top of the fleet sales charts, with 7,589 sales, down nearly 20% compared with May 2002. The Vauxhall Astra was second, followed by the Vauxhall Corsa and Renault Megane, which recorded a 20% jump in sales to 4,019 compared to last year due to the new model launched late in 2002. Ford Mondeo sales were down nearly 25% at 3,751, as the manufacturer prepared to launch an updated version.
In the manufacturer league table for the month, Ford remained in the lead, although sales of 17,473 are down nearly 12% on the May last year. Vauxhall was a close second, with Renault, Peugeot and Volkswagen taking the remaining places in the top five.
For the year-to-date, the Ford Focus remains in the best-selling fleet car position, although Vauxhall is the best-selling fleet manufacturer so far, with 94,095 sales, a rise of 2.67%.
Overall, fleet sales are down 4.7% for the year-to-date, at 445,986, while private sales are down 2.5% at 553,517. However, sales to sub-25 vehicle fleets are up 3.4% at 107,808.