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The top 100 business cars and top 40 car brands of 2010

Date: 08 February 2011

It was all change in the new car registration market last year as the end of the scrappage scheme for private buyers meant fleet sales enjoyed a return to prominence. Paul Barker examines the figures

After the chaos and general disappointment of 2009, fleet sales figures moved positively in 2010, ending December 10.4% up on the previous year's total and propping up a retail market suffering a post-scrappage scheme hangover.

In total, 973,233 new cars were registered as fleet last year, a category that includes daily rental, courtesy and bodyshop cars, as well as Motability numbers. That's an increase of more than 90,000 on the 882,415 of 2009, although still 136,734 units below the pre-recession levels of 2008. But after the 20.5% fall in registrations in 2009 it's certainly progress, and given that the overall market scraped to a positive 1.8% up on 2009 as retail registrations dropped by 5.6%, the fleet figures are a positive. Private registrations fell below one million units fro the first time in a decade.

"Fleet registrations have become more stable, not only in the UK but across the major European markets as people start to replace vehicles again," says Jens Uwe-Berg, market development manager, global leasing, for data analysis expert Jato.

"During the crisis and slightly after, there were a lot of contract hire companies recommending prolonging existing contracts. They had little funding for new vehicles and the customer could get nowhere near the same rate per month as their current contract," continues Uwe-Berg. "That trend created fewer fleet vehicles in 2008 and 2009, but there comes a time when you need to trade those vehicles in for new ones and the start of that was in 2010.

"The environment became more favourable last year: residual values came up to an acceptable level, the market itself was more relaxed and the availability of funding became better than it was. It was a trend that came from both sides."

Diesel registrations hit a new high of 46.1% in 2010 as a combination of much-improved technology, CO2-based taxation and a better-informed public continued to have an effect. Alternative-fuelled cars enjoyed a 52.8% sales growth, brought on in part by increased choice of models, but still only took a 1.1% share of new-car registrations across fleet and retail sectors. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders doesn't see that share suddenly rising rapidly. "I firmly believe that we will see a range of new technologies, however it will be progressive and slow business over the next five to 10 years," says SMMT chief executive Paul Everitt. "The majority of people will still be in conventional petrol and diesel, which will be significantly more fuel efficient."

Jato witnessed a continuation of the downsizing trend, in a couple of different ways. "We've seen downsizing from both an engine level and with models, as people realise they could save money by going to the level below," says Uwe-Berg. "People are really looking at what the company car is used for - it's a functional vehicle - and there is also rethinking at driver level, thanks to personal taxation being CO2-dependent."

Ford retained the number one spot in the corporate sector that it took back from Vauxhall in 2009, although at a reduced market share as the gap closed from more than 35,000 units to a little above 3500. Vauxhall's growth in sales was just behind the market average, but Ford was down 10.5% on 2009, due in part to the run-out of the Focus, with the new model arriving this March, and a significant revamp to the Mondeo.

VW enjoyed a steady year in third place in the table, while BMW increased its fleet registrations by a third to leapfrog Peugeot and Audi.

Renault had a spectacular 2010 after an extremely tough 2009, more than doubling its fleet registrations to jump back into the top 10. "We'd put that down to several factors," says Uwe-Berg. "The price has always been reasonable, Renault is open to generous fleet agreements, and the cars have always been relatively well-equipped, especially versus the German brands. It has a quite new model line-up and relatively low levels of CO2."

Apart from Ford, the only other brand in the top 10 not to increase its fleet registrations was Toyota, 4.1% down on 2009 in a market 10.4% up. A mid-year update for the Auris didn't help it and it slid down the model chart thanks to a 44.8% drop in registrations. However, the petrol-electric hybrid Prius continued to be sought after, and is now in the top 40 most popular fleet registrations.

Outside the top 10 models, the big riser was Hyundai (see 'Hyundai enjoys sales surge in 2010', right), leaping up nine places in the chart thanks to a fleets registrations increase of 157.4%. Sister brand Kia also had a good year, while Mini continues to grow in the corporate sector, and ended the year just 371 units behind Fiat.

Although it just missed out on topping the manufacturer table, Vauxhall did take the number one spot in the model line-up, with the Astra passing Ford's Focus and Fiesta. During 2010 there were 54,306 Astras registered to fleets, just under 149 per day, beating the Focus by 568 units.

BMW's 3-series was the biggest-selling upper medium model, beating the fleet mainstays of the Vauxhall Insignia and Ford Mondeo, but in fairness there were decisive numerical contributions from the 3-series Coupe and Convertible ranges. Meanwhile, Nissan's Qashqai continued to grow in popularity, breaking into the fleet sales top 10 for the first time.

Renault's resurgence in fleet registration numbers saw the Scenic mini-MPV climb 47 places back into the top 20, after a 2009 fall of 36 spots, and Hyundai had a car placed in the fleet top 40 for the first time in the form of the i30. A massive increase in Mercedes E-class registrations saw it lead the executive sector, toppling BMW's 5-series, which had a mid-year sales dip caused by the switch from old model to new.

Highest new entry went to Peugeot, as the impressive 3008 came into position 26, with Hyundai's i20 and the Peugeot 5008 the other best-placed new models. Heading in the other direction were the Honda Accord, Mazda 5, VW Jetta, Chevrolet Lacetti and Kia Carens, the biggest names to fall out of the top 100 last year. The Accord in particular is a surprise, but symbolises a tricky time for Honda in the corporate market at present.

Ford and VW shared the highest number of individual models in the top 100 chart, at nine each, with Toyota third with seven different badges among the top 100 fleet model registrations.

What 2011 has in store for fleet registrations is, as ever, at the mercy of the wider economy and to what level any recovery emerges, which makes prediction a little tricky. "We will definitely have the continuation of downsizing this year, especially with engines," says Jato's Uwe-Berg. "The fleet market will be stable, maybe growing a little, but definitely stable."

According to the SMMT, fleet registrations will again prop up the market in 2011, with the association predicting an overall drop in the market of 5% this year. "Our sense is that fleet and business sector will be more stable and the decline is in the retail sector," says Everitt. The SMMT predicts a 4.7% growth in overall new car registrations for 2012, taking it back towards last year's levels.