New car registrations in 2014 were the highest for 10 years and the fourth highest on record, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

During 2014 a total of 2,476,435 new cars were registered in the UK – the most in a calendar year since 2004, and only 2002, 2003 and 2004 saw more cars registered.

The market grew by 9.3% compared with the previous year and every month in 2014 saw an increase, with December’s 8.7% rise the 34th consecutive month of growth. The UK car market has seen the second-largest level of growth in Europe, 3.6 percentage points greater than the EU average of 5.7%.

Plug-in car sales had the fastest growth rate, but from a very low base, quadrupling from 3,586 in 2013 to 14,498 in 2014.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “UK new car registrations returned to pre-recession levels in 2014, as pent-up demand from the recession years combined with confidence in the economy saw consumer demand for the latest models grow consistently and strongly.

“The year was particularly strong for alternatively-fuelled vehicles as increased choice, coupled with a growing desire for reduced costs and greater efficiency, resulted in a quadrupling of plug-in car registrations over 2013. With a variety of new plug-in models expected in 2015, this area of the market will continue to grow significantly. For the market as a whole, we expect a more stable 2015 as demand levels off.”

Sue Robinson, drector of the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA) which represents franchised car and commercial vehicle retailers across the UK, said: “It is extremely encouraging to see that the car market hit a 10-year high in 2014.

“Competitive offers by manufacturers along with strong finance offers boosted sales as consumer confidence returned to the market. Car showrooms have reported increased sales activity and interest from consumers looking to replace their vehicles, which is some cases are part of the aging car park or not as fuel or energy efficient as modern vehicles.

“The NFDA expect the market this year to continue to perform well and to build on the success of 2014.”