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New car sales defy expectations in typically slow month

February 2016 saw the biggest increase in new car registrations in more than a decade in Britain, it has been revealed.

Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reported a spike of 8.4 per cent to 83,395 new registrations in February, a month that typically sees buyers hold off until the registration plate change in March.

Much of the month’s growth stemmed from retail customers, with an increase of 22.6 per cent, while purchases by fleet buyers fell 1.4 per cent.

A mixture of strong consumer confidence, attractive finance packages and low interest rates are said to be some of the reasons for the unusual increase, which occurred during a leap year.

February 2016’s sales figure was lower than that of 2002, 2003 and 2004, which saw the total approaching 100,000 registrations, but considerably higher than in 2009 – the lowest point since 2000.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “February is typically one of the quietest months of the year, ahead of March’s plate change, but this positive performance is encouraging and puts the sector in a good position for the coming 12 months.”

A record-breaking 2.6 million new registrations were recorded in 2015, highlighting the UK’s strong economic position compared with other European markets.

Diesels, which have targeted by the government in recent years, saw a drop in market share from 50.1 to 48.8 per cent, while petrol rose from 47.5 to 48.5 per cent.

Meanwhile alternatively fuelled vehicles (hybrids and electric cars) enjoyed a 2.7 per cent increase, 0.3 per cent more than February 2015, building on record sales in 2015.

The strength of selling in sterling has been a plus for car makers (and no doubt partly why many overseas manufacturers are now choosing to build cars in the UK), and also consumers, who are enjoying the increased competition and more competitive pricing.

The SMMT listed the ten biggest selling cars of the month. Leading the pack was the Ford Fiesta, with 4,507 cars sold, followed by the VW Golf and its 2,574 sales, suggesting the emissions scandal has been less of a concern for buyers.

Third place went to the Nissan Qashqai (2,486 sales), fourth to the Vauxhall Corsa (2,408), fifth to the Ford Focus (2,369), sixth to the Vauxhall Astra (1,626) and the Audi A3 (1,619).

Rounding off eighth, ninth and tenth place was the VW Polo, Kia Sportage and Vauxhall Mokka, with 1,585, 1,521 and 1,506 sales, respectively.

Positive new for the UK, then, but experts warn the recent weakening of the pound could see a natural peak. Speaking to the Telegraph newspaper, Barclays head of retail and wholesale, Ian Gilmartin, said: “Once again a big increase in registrations despite a number of macroeconomic challenges.

“However, February doesn’t ever make or break the year. Last year’s rapid growth was in part due to the strength of sterling encouraging manufacturers to push product in the UK, so the recent weakening of the pound may contribute to registrations reaching a natural peak.”

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