There are though growing concerns about second-half retail sales volumes and the year-to date total of 683,349 is 0.74% down on this point last year.
The March total was 0.5% higher (2,355 units) at 451,642, almost 20,000 units better than the SMMT expected.
In 2007, March accounted for 18.7% of the year’s registrations.
Supermini registrations were 4.3% higher in March to take 35.3% of the market and SMMT chief executive Paul Everitt attributes this to people buying lower-carbon cars “to save money and reduce their carbon footprint”.
A possible foretaste of showroom problems was a 1.4% dip in private sales in March, taking the decline in the first quarter to 2.4%.
The SMMT says: “Consumer spending is predicted to ease this year. It is prudent to be aware of the possibility for a sudden change in consumers’ ability and willingness to sustain new car purchases at current levels.”
This was one reason why volume brands invested in dealer bonuses and incentives for retail buyers to secure the largest possible share of the 08 plate market.
The big March volume winner was Nissan (more than 55% up year-on-year), although franchisees report some self-registering to win weighty quarter one bonus payments.
Low-volume brand Smart did even better, up almost 59%.
Honda (more than 6% up) did well ahead of the arrival of the new Accord and BMW moved above a year-to-date 5% market share with a 3.18% advance.
Mitsubishi topped 1% market share in March with an improvement of nearly 43%. Its strong March performance was largely due to a return to TV commercials, said John Hughes, managing director of JT Hughes, Oswestry.
“We noticed a rise in showroom traffic and the Colt cabrio and Outlander are doing particularly well.
“I think some manufacturers’ first quarter targets were too high, and the Mitsubishi network has done well despite intense pressure from manufacturers on dealers with other franchises,” he said.
#AM_ART_SPLIT# New models failed to ignite sales for France’s main brands. Renault was down by 15.40%, Peugeot by 7.73% and Citroën by 7.59%.
A Peugeot UK spokesman said: “Sales of 107, and 308 against 307 last year, were up and small cars are our forte but we had fewer selling days in March because of Easter.”
The Italians fared better, with Fiat more than 9% higher and Alfa Romeo close to 4% up. Toyota took a 5.75% knock last month and was almost 9% down on the first quarter.
Vauxhall is not yet showing signs of dethroning the market leader of more than three decades, with Ford’s 14.85% market share well ahead of the challenger (12.64%) in March.
Diesel registrations rose by 22,821 in the first quarter and took 4.19% of the market (up from 38.4%).
Top 10 March registrations
1. Ford Focus 21,850
2. Ford Fiesta 20,384
3. Vauxhall Corsa 19,099
4. Vauxhall Astra 17,725
5. Peugeot 207 12,142
6. Volkswagen Golf 11,509
7. BMW 3 Series 10,317
8. Honda Civic 9,245
9. Renault Clio 9,118
10. Mini 8,858