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LONDON (Reuters) - British new car registrations hit an all-time high last year, two sources told Reuters citing preliminary industry data, helped by rising consumer confidence, the strength of the pound and cheap car loans.
"The headline number will be around 2.63 million," one of the sources close to the data said, adding that some of the sales figures for the last trading day of December had yet to be seen.
The previous record for registrations in Britain was set in 2003 when 2.58 million new cars were sold.
A second source familiar with the data also said the total figure would be around 2.63 million.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, an industry body, is due to publish the data on Thursday. It declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.
Car sales in Britain, Europe's second-biggest auto market after Germany, fell sharply after the 2007-8 financial crisis but have gradually recovered, returning in 2014 to pre-crisis levels at 2.48 million.
British consumers have benefited from low interest rates and the strengthening of sterling against the euro which has made it cheaper to import cars from car-producing nations in Europe such as Germany and France.
Around 75 percent of new car purchases are now made on credit in Britain with many customers effectively renting a new car -- typically for three years -- before trading it in for a new model using a scheme known as a personal contract plan (PCP).
The expected new record high for registrations comes despite declines in sales for Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE), which accounts for around 20 percent of British car sales. Sales of some of its brands fell sharply in October and November following the diesel emissions scandal.
Low inflation, rising wages for many households and falling unemployment have helped to bolster consumer confidence in Britain, boosting car sales.
Editing by William Schomberg