True fleet sales in the first quarter of 2013 have remained broadly flat year-on-year, following the trend set during much of last year.
Official figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders reveal carmakers sold 118,240 cars to leasing companies and fleets in the first three months of the year, down 2.1% on the corresponding period in 2012.
However, rental registrations rose significantly, by almost 20% to 64,941, fuelled by a mix of premium, mass market and emerging brands. The main rental providers have been reporting improving access to cars at competitive prices, both on buy-back deals and for those they choose to purchase outright.
The German trio of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz all increased their volume of cars going to daily hire companies.
BMW almost doubled its rental business in the first three months of the year, to 2,027. However, its captive registrations have plummeted by almost 70%; many of the 2,481 cars registered last year were destined for the London Olympics.
Despite some concern at the time that such high volumes of short-term vehicles might affect residuals when they returned to the market, the key pricing guides have not moved their valuations.
Mercedes-Benz has doubled its rental registrations in the first quarter, taking it to 2,473. However, it has also seen a sizeable 47.5% rise in its leasing sales, moving it from 4,157 to 6,132.
The new A-class is a major reason for this success: stylish looks and low CO2 emissions have seen it become a big hit with fleet operators, resulting in Mercedes-Benz reappearing on a number of user-chooser choice lists.
The C-class, which under-went a heavy facelift two years ago, is also selling well. It enjoys strong residual values (sector-leading?) despite a number of phantom cars being publicised on some broker websites at cut-throat leasing rates.
The gloss on Mercedes-Benz’s quarterly success has been slightly dulled by an 11.3% drop in direct end user fleet sales of 933 units, taking it to 7,318.