New car registrations increased 2% year-on-year in April to 189,505 units, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). This April figure was the highest since 2003, when 194,312 new vehicles were sold.
As in March, the market growth in April was led by the fleet and business sectors, where respective increases of counterbalanced a fall in private registrations.
Private new car registrations decreased 2.5% year-on-year, from 85,942 to 83,793 in April. The private segment’s share of the market decreased from 46.3% to 44.2%. Fleet car registrations increased 6.1% year-on-year from 93,118 to 98,807.
Demand was up for petrol and alternatively-fuelled vehicles, which rose by 3.4% and 26.8% respectively. Diesel car sales dropped by 0.6%.
Richard Jones, managing director at Black Horse, said: "April’s figures continue the trend of growing sales for the industry, with continued low interest rates and manufacturer subsidisation remaining key drivers of this growth. Alongside the new car activity, we anticipate working even more closely in partnership with our dealers in the coming weeks and months to help them quickly retail nearly new and low mileage car stocks with attractively structured finance offers."
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Sue Robinson, director of the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA), said: "Various factors such as inflation experiencing only a minor growth, interest rates held at 0.5% as well as low cost finance offers encouraged consumers to commit to buy new cars.
"We are pleased to see that in spite of following a record breaking March, demand for new cars continued its upward trend. It is also encouraging to see that alternative fuel vehicles remained strong with a growth of 26.8%.
"The UK economy has repeatedly recorded positive trends for the past 15 months with a 0.4% increase in the first quarter of 2016, and we are pleased to see that on the back of this the car market has continued to make its relevant contribution."
Chris Welch, managing director of asset finance at Hampshire Trust Bank, said: "The steady increase in registrations in April shows the positive impact the new 16 plate is continuing to have on new vehicle sales. UK businesses purchasing vans and cars continue to reap the benefits of new products, underpinned by low interest rates. For price-conscious smaller businesses this is good news and for those company owners who are looking to invest a vehicle this year, they should focus on securing the maximum price discount and then shop around for the best asset finance deal."
Close Brothers Motor Finance chief executive officer James Broadhead said:"The increased availability and accessibility of a range of finance packages, which buyers can take advantage of when purchasing new cars, is without a doubt playing a part in this growth story. Our larger dealer customers in particular are telling us that Personal Contract Purchases are growing in popularity as customers become more familiar with this affordable form of financing. This is making a positive impact on volumes of new car sales, with some customers reporting that they’re now seeing penetration rates of well over 80%."
Despite a 6.8% year-on-year decrease in sales in April, Ford remained the best-selling brand with 23,311 units sold.
Volkswagen was the second most popular brand, after selling 16,877 units in April – 9.7% less than the same month in 2015.
There were 16,037 Vauxhall cars sold ( down 3% year-on-year), 13,668 Audis (up 3% year-on-year) and 10,980 BMWs (up 0.8% year-on-year).
Three digit year-on-year sales growth was recorded for Jaguar (109%) and Jeep (115%).