New car registrations in the United Kingdom continued to climb in February, up 3.8% to 91,460 units. February typically accounts for less than 4% of the annual new car market as buyers await the first of the year’s biannual registration ‘plate changes’ on March 1.

Year-to-date figures also showed strong growth, up 5.2% to 289,051, setting the market on course to reach the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders’ 2.5 million unit year-end forecast.

Business registrations (fleets of less than 25 cars) experienced 47% growth in February while registrations of fleet cars rose 0.5% to 46.7% in February, as usual accounting for the majority of new cars registered.

Registrations to private buyers remained stable in February, climbing 1.8% to 44.2% year-to-date.

Throughout 2001, the UK new car market experienced record growth levels pushing the rolling 12 month average from 2.2 million units to 2.5 million units.

New car registrations have stayed around the 2.5 million unit mark since 2002 showing stability in the UK market, which is now the second largest in Europe.

Expectations for the key March market –the new ’04’ number plates began to be issued on the first of the month – are for the growth momentum to continue, with volumes expected to exceed last year’s record 438,075 units.

Five supermini models featured in February’s top 10 best-sellers’ list. Superminis continue to dominate the market, accounting for 33.1% of all new cars registered.

The sports car segment saw the biggest monthly rise, leaping 71.5% to 2,037 units. MPVs (UK-speak for ‘minivan’) and luxury cars also experienced growth, climbing 52.4% and 25.4% respectively.

Demand for diesel-powered cars continued to thrive as registrations jumped 20% in February to 27,255. Diesel penetration rose from 25.8% to 29.8% in the month, while year-to-date penetration reached 30.8%, still somewhat behind the 50%-plus now reached in some European markets. The industry expects the growth in diesel registrations to continue, with diesel predicted to account for 33% of the total market by 2005.