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Sunday, 8 April, 2001, 13:22 GMT 14:22 UK
UK car sales set for 'record year'
Volkswagen showroom
Customers are being tempted back to showrooms
The number of new cars sold in the UK in 2001 could break all previous records as buyers continue to take advantage of falling prices, according to industry sources.

A big increase in sales for March, announced last week, has convinced the motor trade that it is on course to equal or beat its 1989 record of 2.3 million sales.

The number of new Y-registration cars sold in March rose 1.5% to 408,024, with a 17% rise in private buyers, compared to March 2000, more than making up for a slip in fleet sales.

The upbeat forecast will be a shot in the arm for the UK's car industry, which has been hit by a series of lay-offs and threatened plant closures.

Price cuts

Last year's total of 2.21 million cars sold in the UK was the third highest on record.

UK car sales (million)
1989 - 2.3m
1900 - 2m
1991 - 1.59m
1992 - 1.59m
1993 - 1.78m
1994 - 1.91m
1995 - 1.94m
1996 - 2.02m
1997 - 2.17m
1998 - 2.24m
1999 - 2.19m
2000 - 2.21m
But industry insiders believe some private customers are holding back to see how far prices will fall.

And they believe customers will continue to be tempted back to the forecourts in record numbers through the rest of the year.

Alan Pulham, franchised dealer director for the Retail Motor Industry Federation, said: "This year's sales could well match the all-time high of 1989."

'Still overcharging'

Last year, car makers were ordered to cut prices in the UK after prices for new cars were found to be 10% to 12% higher than in other European countries.

This was followed by new legislation aimed at increasing competition in the car industry.

Some big manufacturers announced cuts off their list prices, and this was reflected in a pick-up in sales.

Top 10 sellers (March)
Ford Focus
Peugeot 206
Vauxhall Astra
Vauxhall Corsa
Ford Fiesta
Fiat Punto
Renault Clio
Ford Mondeo
Vauxhall Vectra
Ford Ka
But the Consumers' Association claims leading car companies have been "dodging" a ruling to cut the price of new cars.

And the latest European Commission price report indicated that UK consumers were still being overcharged for new cars, compared to Europe.

Traditional Y-registration number plates that hit the British roads in March are to be replaced by new European-style plates in September.

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