The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) also revealed that almost two million new cars were sold in 2009.
Yearly sales down, but upward trend
Although sales for 2009 were the lowest since 1995, sales in the second half of the year were boosted by the introduction of the scrappage scheme.
Overall, new car sales in 2009 fell by 6.4% compared with the previous 12 months.
Sales rise to beat VAT increase
The 38.9% rise in sales during December was in part due to buyers rushing to beat January's increase in VAT – the tax has reverted to 17.5% from 15%.
Paul Everitt, the SMMT's chief executive, said: 'The 2009 figure of 1,994,999 new car registrations was significantly above early expectations and reflects the positive impact of the scheme.'
The scrappage scheme is due to end in February. Many experts believe this could result in a sharp decline in vehicle sales during 2010.
Sales rise – C02 falls
Figures from the SMMT also revealed that average new car carbon dioxide emissions continued to fall during 2009.
The average emissions level for new cars registered in 2009 was 149.5g/km – a fall of 5.4% from 2008.
Top 10 sellers in December