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SMMT rethink on year forecast

New car sales to retail buyers accelerated by more than one-third last month, which SMMT viewed as a return of confidence to the marketplace. The November figure was the highest on record.

That is the headline from the latest SMMT registration figures but November 1999 was an exceptionally poor month. The trade was still in the grip of the Consumers' Association 'rip-off Britain' campaign.

SMMT chief executive Christopher Macgowan said: “The figures show that consumer confidence has returned and car buyers are benefiting from stronger competition in the UK. Exciting new products, improved deals and longer warranties are fuelling a buoyant market.

“With the industry back on track to hit 2.2m units by the end of the year and with a positive outlook for 2001, the feel-good factor has returned to car showrooms.”

There was enough comfort in the November registrations performance for the SMMT to revise its forecast for 2001 registrations upwards to 2.225m, a 3% increase over this year which looks like reaching 2.2m.

Renewed optimism over 2001 is in part because sales held back during this year's uncertainty are expected to be carried over into the early part of next year.

Others are being even more bullish. HSBC is forecasting a 2001 total of 2.4m registrations on the back of pent-up demand.

Total registrations in November were 162,572, a year-on-year increase of 13.4%. Private registrations were up 33.8%, to take 45% of the total market. The previous best November was in 1997 when registrations reached 152,323. December is traditionally a quiet month and dealers are expecting a struggle to meet manufacturers' sales targets.

Fiat last month recorded registrations running 18.56% up over November 1999, with the company reporting higher retail and fleet sales.

Citroen, with registrations up 14.71% and a market share of 3.8%, rose to ninth, just ahead of Toyota.

Year-to-date losers include Ford (down 4.44%) and Renault (down 4.28%).

The manufacturers indicated the reason was model run-outs (Mondeo and Laguna). Mazda registrations are running 19.96% lower, while Subaru is down by 15.35% (Impreza is on run-out).

Ford Focus holds on to the top slot in the sales chart for the seventh consecutive month. Vauxhall Vectra continues as the best-selling upper medium car and is the only car in its class to reach the November top 10.

Registrations of British-built cars last month were up 14.1% at 44,685 units but MG Rover's market share of 4.30% was down. Global sales are down 7.41% but MG Rover is expected to confirm that worldwide sales will hit 200,000 this year. John Parkinson, MG Rover sales and marketing director, said: “Every month we have achieved or beaten our sales targets and the UK trend over the last three months is encouraging.”

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