There were a total of 303,755 vans registered, beating the last record of 298,836 set in 1989.
Registrations up to 1.8 tonnes rose by 11.6% and were up a staggering 33% in December, while medium vans were up 28.2% and heavy vans were up 13.2%.
Market leader Ford saw sales rise from 74,273 last year to 83,819 this year, but star performer was second-placed Vauxhall which saw sales rise from 32,124 last year to 49,873 while in third place, Citroen sales rose from 23,204 to 24,746.
Losers last year included LDV, which saw sales fall from 10,658 to 8,804, Iveco 5,290 (5,707) and Volkswagen 15,958 (15,982).
Chris Macgowan, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, commented: 'This was a remarkable year for business investment in new vehicles as market growth showed an unexpected strength and durability. The new CV market is well placed to hold this strong volume in 2004.'