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Retail buyers fuel 7.3% leap ahead of Y plate sales boom

Registrations rose in February by 7.3%, the fifth consecutive month of growth, confounding expectations of a blip in new car sales.

Christopher Macgowan, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said: “We might have expected a dip in new car sales in February particularly with a change to the Y plate on March 1, but another rise shows the market is in an extremely healthy state.”

{*February 2001*}

Private buyers continue to fuel the new car market. They accounted for nearly 40% of the 79,151 registrations, up from 73,734 in February 2000. Year-to-date private sales have risen 44%.

The SMMT is hopeful that March will continue the upward trend with the introduction of the Y plate. It predicts sales would be up 2% on March 2000.

The March Y plate marks the end of the current registration system. In September an all-new procedure will be launched which may influence demand in the second half of the year.

Despite the encouraging registration figures there were some dramatic rises and falls within individual manufacturers. Alfa Romeo was up 117% in February while volume 'risers' included Nissan, up 97% on the back of Almera sales, and Citroen, up 73%.

Mercedes-Benz, currently facing the threat of legal action from its terminated UK dealers, enjoyed a 64% surge in sales, and was the month's ninth best seller.

MG Rover, though, slumped 32% with 2,322 registrations giving it 2.9% market share. Honda dropped 38% while Fiat was down 20%.

Vauxhall also saw its sales fall, by 16.5% to 10,225 vehicles, which was 12.9% of the market.

A Vauxhall spokesman said: “We did have an exceptionally good start to the year in 2000, which is being reflected in our numbers this year. Having said that Vectra has been affected by the arrival of the new Ford Mondeo and we are only now getting 5dr Corsa into showrooms.”

General Motor's North American brands have been underachieving with Cadillac selling one vehicle in the UK last month. Chevrolet managed six.

The spokesman said that the 10 dealers specialising in these models were still profitable. At the Geneva motor show, GM announced that there could be some showroom-sharing between the North American and the Swedish Saab brands.

South Korean marques continue to suffer. Daewoo fell 64% in February and 63% year-on-year because of troubles at home. Uncertainty over the future of the company, coupled with a shortage of product due to temporary factory closures, has been responsible for the decline.

Hyundai dropped 47% but is hopeful of an upturn following the launch of the new Elantra and the Santa Fe sport utility.

With the new Mondeo racing into second place in the best sellers list, Ford's sales moved up to 16,873 in February, compared to 12,123 in the corresponding month last year.

{*Year to date (Feb)*}

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