The March market for new cars is performing well according to the one of the country's biggest dealers.
Lookers, which operates the UK's biggest Vauxhall brand centre at Star City, Birmingham, painted a positive picture of its 2005 prospects when it published its annual results yesterday.
It was especially upbeat about Land Rover's sales following the launch of the Discovery 3 and the imminent arrival in the showrooms of two new Range Rovers.
Chief executive Ken Surgenor said: " The number of new cars delivered in the first weeks of the crucial month of March has been more than encouraging.
"Several new models are coming on stream this year from the manufacturers we represent."
The company said that even though analysts were predicting a fall in new car sales this year demand remained healthy and stressed that sales had exceeded 2.4 million in every year since 2001.
Mr Surgenor said new car sales in January and February, ahead of the March 1 registration plate change, were down on the "previous strong comparable period last year".
But he added: "We have performed slightly ahead of the market, with volumes more in line with those achieved in 2003."
Lookers said yesterday that its pretax profit before goodwill amortisation and exception items for the 12 months to December 31 rose by 17 per cent to £15.3 million.
Sales grew by 14 per cent to break through the £ 1 billion barrier (£1.094 billion) for the first time in the company's 95-year history.
Despite a number of acquisitions, including the recent £8.5 million takeover of Bristol Trade Centre, a "strong" operating cashflow of £43 million had helped Lookers to reduce gearing to 67 per cent from 84 per cent at the end of 2003.
Lookers opened its £ 4.5 million Star City Vauxhall site in June 2004 and volumes have grown steadily, Mr Surgenor reported yesterday.
Looking ahead he said: "Although it is prudent to be cautious about the outlook for new car sales this year, we are confident that 2005 will be another good year for the group."