September 2002 new car sales in the UK were just 2.4 per cent down on last year’s record total and the second highest September on record, reaching 432,661 units, but an increasing number of industry commentators, citing dealers, are saying that a downturn is likely in the remaining months of the year.

January to September 2002 inclusive sales were 5.1% up on the same period last year and the usually upbeat Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) still expects 2002 will break the record of 2.46 million cars sold in 2001.

The SMMT said fleet and business segments both increased market share in September while registrations of cars to private buyers dipped slightly in September though up 4.1% over the year to date.

The SMMT expects 2.51 million sales in 2002, an increase of about 50,000 cars (2%) on last year’s record total of 2,458,769 cars.

Diesel sales rose 24.4% in September to 99,601 units and are up 42.7% for the year to date at 470,839 units.

Diesel market share reached 23% in September and is 22.8% year to date.

This reflects changes in company car tax introduced in April which bases the amount paid on CO2 emissions. Diesel models generally emit less of this allegedly environment-damaging ‘greenhouse’ gas than petrol engines of equivalent size and output.

For the 29th  month in a row the Ford Focus topped the UK cars best-sellers list.

General Motors’ Opel-designed Vauxhall Corsa finished September in second spot, ahead of its third placed Astra sibling in a particularly strong month for Vauxhall.

The BMW 3-series returned to the top 10, taking sixth spot in September, although superminis continue to dominate the leaders.

Sales of cars new cars built outside the UK continued their gradual increase with Vauxhall, Mazda, Volvo, BMW and Audi all reporting growth.

This is hardly surprising given that two perennial top 10 favourites – Ford’s Fiesta and the saloon versions of the Vauxhall Vectra – are now built in Germany instead of Britain while the increased volume from Honda and Nissan plants is mostly exported to Europe, Japan and the US.

September sales of British-built cars in the UK dipped 10.1%.

Supermini (Ford Fiesta class) registrations have risen 7.2% in 2002 adding 44,541 units to the market, the equivalent of 44.3% of total year to date market growth.

4×4 (SUVs like the Land Rover discovery) and MPVs (minivans such as the Ford Galaxy) have shown the largest percentage gains, up 13.4% and 22% respectively over the first nine months of 2002.

Lower medium cars also grew sales 5.4% to 31,930.