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Market shrugs off attacks

The aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US and concerns over the economy had no effect on UK new car sales which continued to soar last month.

The market remains firmly on course to beat 1989's record of 2,300,944, and so the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders recent forecast of 2.3m.

Figures for the first nine months of 2001 now stand at 1,962,700 units and dealers were reporting strong orders for October, many of them carried over from last month due to problems meeting demand.

Sir Peter Vardy, chairman of Reg Vardy plc, said September's figures could have been higher but for the shortage of some models.

“We had the orders but not the cars so we have carried forward some sales,” he said.

This suggested that most of September's sales were orders before the events in New York, specifically aimed at the new registration plate system.

Private buyers accounted for a just over half of September's 443,265 sales, a rise of 25% on the corresponding month last year. Year-on-year registrations are running 9.2% ahead.

SMMT chief executive Christopher Macgowan said: “These figures show that car buying decisions do not seem to have been affected by the terrible events of September 11. They represent a clear vote of confidence by consumers in the economy and strong competition in car showrooms.”

All the volume carmakers were ahead of September 2000 with Ford Focus again the market leader. It headed the best seller's list for the 17th consecutive month with 21,200 registrations.

A strong sales performance by Citroen, particularly the Xsara and Xsara-based Picasso MPV, helped boost demand for lower medium models by 35%. Citroen's overall performance was up nearly 65% and is running at 60% ahead year-on-year with sales of 105,168.

Significant losers included Daewoo, which is still suffering from uncertainty over its South Korean parent and an impending take over by General Motors. Mazda registrations are down 40% as it starts to re-organise both its model range and its business following the acquisition of UK importer MCL.

A spokesman for UK of DaimlerChrysler said orders were strong for both North American and German brands.

“Mercedes-Benz and luxury models tend to be fairly recession proof anyway, but we are seeing strong performances from Chrysler Jeep,” he said.

It was similar news at BMW where the 3 Series made it into the top 10 best sellers list with 11,737 vehicles at the expense of the Renault Megane, which is starting to show signs of age.

With registrations of UK-built cars also up, MG Rover showed signs of having turned a corner. It registered 17,808 units in September, up 36% on last year, although the company is 12% down year-to-date with 74,654 sales against 85,274 in 2000.

Registration of imports accounted for 75.8% of sales, up from 71.9% last September, an trend reflected throughout 2001.

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