Ford was Britain's most popular automotive brand for 2005, ending the year 66,000 car and light commercial vehicle sales ahead of its nearest competitor.

The automaker said the Ford Transit van and light truck line - most sold in the UK are built in the company's Southampton plant on England's south coast - enabled it to secure four decades of consecutive commercial vehicle market leadership last year. It was originally launched in the UK for the 1966 model year.

Ford claimed 2005 car market leadership with 347,550 vehicles sold for a 14.2%share, 30,000 cars ahead of its arch-rival, General Motors' Vauxhall (317,353 according to Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders data). Volkswagen was third most popular UK brand with 185,519 registrations.

Ford's C-segment Focus model line - fully redesigned for 2005 - remained the UK's best selling car for the seventh year in a row with 145,010 sales. Most sold here are hatchbacks though wagon and sedan versions are also offered. The Focus was also the top seller in every month of 2005 and the top diesel-powered model line.

Vauxhall's Astra was second with 108,461 registrations, up from sixth in 2004, reflecting the critically acclaimed success of the full redesign for the 2004 model year.

"The ongoing success of the [Focus] as the UK's top selling car is especially pleasing," said Ford of Britain managing director Paul Thomas in a statement. "It is an accolade the model has held every year since the original [version] went on sale in 1998."

Ford's light commercial vehicle (under 3.5 tonnes) range achieved 87,042 sales and 26.95% market share, according to the SMMT's data. Both sales and market share were off compared to 2004 when 94,681 were sold for a 28.71% share.

Second-placed Vauxhall was almost 35,000 behind the Blue Oval with 52,481 sales and 16.25% market share.

Ford credited the success of the Transit and the smaller Turkish-built Transit Connect for its selling around one in three medium-sized commercials in the UK last year.

Ford of Britain's incoming sales director Nigel Sharp said: "The 2006 outlook for Ford is good although the market will remain very competitive."

Graeme Roberts