New car sales dropped 4.4 per cent in 2011 as economic conditions cooled and consumer confidence fell, according to figures released Friday by the SMMT.
However, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said there was some good news – the fall wasn't as bad as it had originally predicted.
A total of 1,941,253 cars were sold in 2011 which bettered forecasts made at the start of the year that estimated 1.92 million cars would be sold.
The best selling car of the year was the Ford Fiesta, the model which had led the sales charts for most of the year, which found 96,112 new homes. It was closely followed by the Focus (81,832) and the Vauxhall Corsa came third with 77,751 sold.
The SMMT said a weak start to 2011 significantly stunted sales, but registrations picked up in the latter part of the year. Fleet deals were the main reason sales didn't drop too far – the retail market, cars sold to everyday drivers, was drastically down.
"Weak economic growth will make trading conditions tough in 2012, but record numbers of new and updated models, significantly improved fuel efficiency and exciting new technologies will help to encourage consumers into showrooms," said SMMT chief executive Paul Everitt.
"Business and consumer confidence will be the key to a successful year, so it will be important that government delivers on its growth strategy and helps to resolve instability in the Euro Zone."
Rounding out the top 10 best selling cars in 2011 were the VW Golf in fourth with 63,368 models sold, fifth was the Vauxhall Astra (62,575), sixth the Vauxhall Insignia (46,324), followed by the VW Polo (45,992), BMW 3 Series (42,471), and the British built pairing of Nissan Qashqai (39,406) in ninth and MINI (35,845) in 10th.
The SMMT thinks 2012 will "be broadly stable, with firmer recovery expected in 2013". However, the crisis in Europe and continuing weakening consumer confidence is likely to make 2012 just as tough as the last 12 months.