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Thursday, 4 October, 2001, 13:04 GMT 14:04 UK
Car sales defy doomsters
Ford Focus
The Ford Focus: The UK's top selling model for the 17th month running
Car buyers shrugged off the gloom surrounding the terrorist attacks on the US to make last month the best September on record for dealers, industry monitors have said.

The number of cars sold last month hit 443,265, one-quarter more than in September last year, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said.

The rise keeps this year's UK car sales, at 1.96 million so far, on track to break the 2.39 million record set in 1989.

While many observers had expected the shock of last month's atrocities to prompt purchase delays and cancellations, the introduction of the new-style licence plates underpinned demand from private buyers, Thursday's report showed.

"September figures suggest little change in new car buying patterns following the tragic events of 11 September," the report said.

"Buyers clamoured for the all-new registration plate format."

SMMT chief executive Christopher Macgowan said: "Total September registrations were far better than we had predicted and the really positive thing is that private buyers were responsible for the sales surge."

Alan Pulham of the Retail Motor Industry Federation said falling interest rates were fuelling "customer confidence and value for money propositions".

MG upturn

Ford's Focus retained its position as the UK's top-selling car, with 21,200 units sold, with the marque's Fiesta model in second place, the SMMT said.

Top 10 sellers
1: Ford Focus
2: Ford Fiesta
3: Peugeot 206
4: Vauxhall Corsa
5: Vauxhall Astra
6: Ford Mondeo
7: Citroen Xsara
8: Renault Clio
9: VW Golf
10: BMW 3 series

Figs: September, SMMT

Over 2001 so far, however, Peugeot's 206 model has taken place, selling 80,000 units.

While sales of UK-built cars have slipped during 2001, domestic manufacturers including MG Rover enjoyed a "particularly good September", the society said.

Almost 18,000 MG Rover cars were sold last month, up by more than one third on September 2000.

But with the firm's total UK sales down 12.5% at 74,654, the carmaker curbed exuberance over last month's data.

"While we are encouraged by our September sales, our focus is now firmly fixed on the last quarter to deliver a good full year performance," a company statement said.

Slide to come

The data follows a troubled period for the UK car industry, which was last year ordered by government to drop prices after an investigation by trade watchdogs into high prices charged to UK customers.

Observers said that anger over the prices, and expectations of reductions to come, prompted customers to in effect boycott dealerships.

With prices lower this year, the release of pent up demand for cars is credited with much of the sector's buoyancy this year.

The SMMT has warned, however, that car sales are likely to ease in the last three months of the year, as the economic downturn, and the one-off affect of the new licence plates, feed through.

See also:

02 Oct 01 | Business
Car makers rattled by US attacks
12 Sep 01 | Business
Car makers hope for Frankfurt boost
07 Sep 01 | Business
EU 'overhauls' car market
05 Jul 01 | Business
Car sales hit record
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