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Year forecast rises to 2.1m

Motor industry bosses are revising sales forecasts for the year upwards as a result of another strong month for registrations.

Christopher Macgowan, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders' chief executive since June 1, said he now hoped to see 2.1m units registered in 1999 against an earlier forecast of 2.05m.

The growth rate has slowed after the March and April boom but last month's new car registrations were up by 1.8% at 175,898, against 172,850 for the same month last year. The year-to-date growth rate is 2.9%, with a five-month total of 994,887 against 967,102 for the same period last year.

Analysts were predicting growth in the first half of the year because of the new March plate change but still expect registration figures to drop away, particularly in the final quarter due to the so-called 'Millennium effect'.

Manufacturers will try to pull sales forward from the V-plate in September into July and August.

The retail market continues to be heavily supported by special promotions, such as free insurance and low-cost finance, and Mr Macgowan said private customers were continuing to buy new cars in increasing numbers.

Strong sales of Clio and Megane have lifted Renault into third place in the annual sales chart, just pipping French rivals Peugeot.

But neither Renault nor Peugeot have made significant volume gains. Virtually the entire 27,785 increase in registrations can be attributed to the success of Volkswagen which has already sold 25,222 more cars this year than last. A further 13,377 extra cars have been sold by Vauxhall, just over a year after the introduction of new Astra.

In contrast, Rover has lost 26,013 units and Ford has lost 3,628, despite having the satisfaction of seeing Focus climb to top spot in the model chart for the second time since launch.

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