The UK auto industry trade association, the SMMT, has reported that the UK new passenger car market declined by 9.1% to 186,769 units. However, the SMMT also issued a bullish forecast for 2003.

Christopher Macgowan, SMMT chief executive, said: "We need to caution against reading too much into one month's figures. Despite a dip in January registrations, the market is still strong, with figures on a par with January 2001. The long-term forecast for this year is 2.4 million units which would make 2003 the third strongest year on record, beaten only by exceptional results in 2001 and 2002."

In 2002, new car registrations hit 2,563,631 units and 2,458,769 in 2001.

The SMMT also noted that the share of diesel continues to rise. Diesel car registrations were up 11% to 50,760 units in January, taking a record 27.2% share. The SMMT said that diesel penetration is expected to reach 28% of overall sales in 2003, or 672,000 units.