The 2013 new car market got off to a good start with 143,643 registrations in January.
The result was 14,790 cars, or 11.5%, ahead of January 2012, but still almost 20,000 short of pre-recession January 2008.
It was the third occasion of double-digit growth in the past four months, set against a difficult market backdrop, and suggests that compelling deals and retailer’s incentives are driving the market.
Growth was boosted by a 15.9% rise in private registrations during the month, equating to 8,382 units, while business sales, which include SMEs, rose by 40.4% or 2,118 cars.
Fleet demand also increased, by 6% or 4,290 registrations.
Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders interim chief executive Mike Baunton said it was a confident start.
He added: “Lifted by a solid rise in private demand, the new car market posted its 11th successive month of growth with motorists attracted to forecourts by the latest models and competitive deals on offer.
Building on a strong performance in 2012, SMMT has increased its market forecast – we anticipate a modest rise of 0.6% over the year, followed by further growth in 2014 to 2.11m units.”
City cars, SUVs, C-segment and MPV classes all posted double-digit gains, fuelled by new model activity.
The SMMT said the advances in fuel efficiency across all ranges are attracting cost-conscious and environmentally-minded consumers.
Tim Peake, group strategy director at Trader Media Group, believes the SMMT is underplaying the market’s potential.
The company, which owns Auto Trader, expects new car registrations to rise by 2.7% this year to 2.1m units.
Peake, who correctly forecasted last year’s 2m market, believes the growth will come from private demand and fleet registrations.
Richard Lowe, head of retail and wholesale at Barclays, said: “The UK’s love affair with new cars continues into 2013.
"Despite the snowy forecourts, consumer demand ensured that sales rose for the 11th month running, and with new model launches and attractive finance deals, we expect to see at least 2m cars sold this year.”
“The new car market continues to perform well despite wider economic uncertainty,” said Sue Robinson, director of the RMI National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA).
“Although the NFDA doesn’t expect to see major growth in the UK new car market during 2013, we do expect it to be stable.
"We expect the market to be supported by strong manufacturer deals and offers that will encourage consumers to buy.
“We also anticipate some pent-up demand from consumers who have put off buying a new car due to economic conditions, but can no longer delay as their car ages with the consequent effect on repair and maintenance costs.
Many of these customers will look to buy a well-priced smaller vehicle that is cheap to maintain and run.”
Two in three car brands made year-on-year gains in January.
The strongest performers included Vauxhall, which recorded a 50.7% increase, or 6,143 extra cars, and Nissan, with a 50.8% increase, or 3,192 more registrations.
In fact, Nissan’s Qashqai and Juke cross-overs both featured in the top 10 best sellers of the month, behind Vauxhall’s Corsa and Astra.
Land Rover’s rise shows little sign of slowing, with 33.6% more registrations year-on-year in January, while stablemate Jaguar wasn’t far behind with a 31.9% increase to 1,207 units.