Registrations to bigger fleets were up by 0.5% to 42,736 units in February and the total market, including retail sales, was up 3.8% to 91,460 units, compared to the same month last year.
Business registrations, to fleets with fewer than 25 vehicles, totalled 9,402 units, or 10.3% of the market share. Superminis continue to dominate – accounting for 33.1% of all new cars registered. Five supermini models feature in February's top 10 best-sellers' list.
Figures produced by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show diesel sales throughout February increased by 20% to 27,255 units and took 29.8% of the market.
A spokesman said: 'The industry expects the growth in diesel registrations to continue, with diesel to account for 33% of the total market by 2005.'
Commenting on the latest figures, SMMT chief executive Christopher Macgowan said: 'Strong growth in a traditionally small month has pushed the UK market forward once more. The road has been paved for a record March market of about 450,000 units, generating approximately £6 billion worth of business.'
The Ford Focus remained the best-selling model, followed by the Vauxhall Corsa in second place and the Renault Megane third. The sports car segment saw the biggest monthly increase, rising 71.5% to 2,037 units. Sales of MPVs and luxury cars also grew, up 52.4% and 25.4% respectively.
Last year's fleet sales were the second highest on record and topped one million units for the seventh year running. Total new car sales for 2003 achieved a record 2,579,050 units, up 0.6% on the previous year. Typically, February accounts for less than 4% of the annual new car market as buyers wait for the March plate change.
Fleets which delay acquiring new vehicles until the next plate change were told by industry experts they could benefit from a windfall worth hundreds of pounds at disposal time (Fleet NewsNet, March 4). Glass's Guide says research on last year's plates is showing that the late 53 plate can fetch up to £500 more than the older 03 registration.