Sales of cars in the UK reached a post-recession peak of 2.47 million cars in 2014, the fourth best year on record, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
The figure, up 9.3 per cent on 2013, was the best since several boom years a decade ago, and takes the car market close to the outright record scored in 1972 when manufacturers such as BL, Ford and Vauxhall were still making most of the cars Britons bought.
SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes described the market as "incredibly strong - stronger than expected".
Monthly sales had been exceeding the previous year's figures for nearly three years, he added, buoyed by a boom in PCP financing and especially strong demand for SUVs and superminis.
About one seventh of the cars bought by today's Britons were made here, the ruling figure for the past few years. The total of cars made in the UK had yet to be finalised, Hawes said, but manufacturing was still on track to reach the predicted record of two million cars in 2017, about 80 per cent of which would be exported - half to Europe and the rest to the wider world, principally the US and China.
Sales of 'plug-in vehicles', which the SMMT defines as pure electric cars and plug-in hybrids, were four times greater in 2014 than the previous year, helped by the fact that Volkswagen, Audi and Mitsubishi had recently joined BMW, Nissan, Renault and Toyota as sellers of these vehicles. But there remained much room for improvement, with 2014 sales amounting to a still modest 14,500 units - compared to 3500 in 2013.
Hawes noted a fall-off in demand for diesels, following recent media "demonisation" based on concerns that many diesel cars would not reach standards required for the London low CO2 zone proposed for 2020. Such criticism was wrong, he pointed out.
Contrary to some comments, diesels that reached the latest Euro 6 standard would indeed be accepted in London. The SMMT was "broadly supportive" of the London plan, but believed that, if anything, it should go further. Although only Euro 6-compliant diesels would avoid proposed new charges, Euro 4-compliant petrol-engined cars would also get through. "Under that system, you're missing out on 14 years of CO2 reduction in petrol cars," Hawes pointed out.
Car sales in 2015 would continue to rise, Hawes predicted, but less rapidly than in recent years, reflecting market caution about the looming general election and the recent fall-off in Russian business, where until recently the UK had been selling about nine per cent of its exported cars. Even so, the SMMT was expecting growth of "one or two per cent, perhaps as much as three", helped by the fact that around 120 new models would be launched during the year.