NEW car sales in Scotland have reached their highest level in six years in the latest sign of economic recovery.
More than 200,000 new car registrations were recorded north of the border in 2013. That was the highest level since 2007 - the year before the credit crunch - and not far off the all-time high of 215,000 in 2004.
Final sales figures for 2013 show drivers in Scotland bought 204,592 new cars in 2013, including 10,430 in December - an increase of 12.2% on the same month in 2012.
The figures are in line with the pattern for the UK as a whole, with December also marking the 22nd consecutive month of car sale increases.
Douglas Robertson, chief executive of the Scottish Motor Trade Association (SMTA), said: "We are delighted to have passed the 200,000 mark for new car registrations in Scotland for the first time since 2007.
"It has been an extremely encouraging year for the industry in Scotland and whilst we do not anticipate a similar increase in 2014 we do expect to see new car registrations of about 207,500 in the year as the market stabilises."
"As the credit squeeze eases we believe SMTA dealers will continue to offer excellent deals for consumers. With more and more concentration on fuel efficiency among new car manufacturers, we would anticipate consumers seeing a continuing reduction in the cost of running a new car."
Vauxhall Corsas were the best-selling make and model of new car in Scotland last year, although across the UK as a whole Ford Fiestas topped the list. Also among the top 10 in Scotland were the Ford Focus, Nissan Qashqai and, in 10th place, BMW 1 Series.
As in previous months, the highest year-on-year increases in sales north of the border have taken place in rural regions, such as Grampian, Highlands and Dumfries and Galloway.
Experts have suggested this is due to rural areas lagging behind the economic recovery and motorists there "playing catch-up". It has also been noted motorists are increasingly trading down to smaller, more fuel-efficient models to cut running costs.
The latest figures come on the back of other positive economic news. The Herald reported last month that small businesses in Scotland are expected to create about 40,000 jobs this year, while the Bank Of Scotland Business Monitor, published on Monday, confirmed the economic recovery had been carried through into the autumn of 2013 with "high expectations for the next six months".
For the UK as a whole, an average of 600 extra cars were registered per day in 2013 than in 2012. Private sales made up 1.07 million of the registrations last year - a rise of 15.6% on the 2012 share.
Both petrol and diesel-engined vehicle sales rose in 2013, but petrol's share of the market grew slightly - from 47.8% in 2012 to 48.8% in 2013 - while diesel's share dipped from 50.8% in 2012 to 49.8% in 2013. The share of the market by alternatively fuelled vehicles, such as electric or hybrid cars, remained flat at 1.4%.
The supermini sector was the largest last year, accounting for nearly 36% of all sales.
Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers And Traders, said: "With its best year since a pre-recession 2007, the UK new car market has helped stimulate the country's economic recovery. "We expect new car registrations to remain stable in 2014 as customers return to a more regular replacement cycle."