The preferences of United Kingdom car buyers have changed markedly over the last 10 years, with growing numbers now rejecting conventional saloons and hatchbacks built by volume manufacturers, according to Glass's Market Intelligence Service.

At the end of 1993, saloon cars took a 21.2% share of the total UK new car market but, by December 2003, this tally had almost halved, to just 10.6%. Glass's said that many consumers and fleet buyers have instead been investing in niche models such as MPVs [minivans] (up from 0.6% to 8.3% market share over the same 10-year period), convertibles (up from 0.9% to 3.8%) and estate cars [station wagons] (up from 10.2% to 13.7%).

There has also been a growing preference for smaller cars, with the market share for city cars and superminis increasing from 26.4% to 35.8% over the past 10 years.

Glass's said that UK consumers are becoming increasingly "badge-sensitive". In 1993, 8% of new cars bought in the UK were from prestige marques such as BMW, Audi and Mercedes. However, by the end of 2003 the total UK market share for prestige marques will have more than doubled to 17%, with the volume manufacturers slipping back to 83%.

"Over the past 10 years, vehicle manufacturers have invested heavily in the development of new niche models to satisfy a growing appetite in the UK for vehicles that offer greater flexibility and individuality," said a Glass's spokesman.

"We have also seen prestige marques take sales from the leading volume car makers, although the widely perceived exclusivity of these premium-priced cars may well diminish if, as expected, this trend continues over the coming decade."