New car registrations at lowest level since 2013

New car registrations

New car registrations in the UK last year fell to their lowest level since 2013, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

It was the third consecutive year of decline, and the SMMT expects that trend to continue in 2020.

Those expectations are largely due to weak consumer confidence and confusion over clean-air legislation.

The organisation also says the industry is facing serious challenges adapting to new emissions legislation.

It says new rules will require a huge expansion in the use of electric and hybrid cars.

But according to the SMMT’s chief executive, Mike Hawes, the fallout from Brexit remains the biggest “clear and present danger” to the sector in the UK.

‘Perfect storm’

The SMMT’s figures show a total of 2.31 million new cars were registered in 2019, down 2.4% from the year before.

Since reaching a record high of 2.69 million vehicles in 2016, the market has been steadily contracting, in response to what Mr Hawes describes as a “perfect storm” for the industry.

A key factor has been the collapse in demand for diesel-powered cars, which fell by 22% compared with 2018.

Where once they accounted for half of all new cars sold, now they make up just a quarter of the market.

The SMMT says uncertainty over future air quality rules, and in particular over potential restrictions on diesel vehicles entering city centres, has left consumers confused.

That, combined with political uncertainty and a general fall in consumer confidence, has meant many potential buyers have decided to hang on to their old cars rather than investing in new ones.

“You can never put it down to one single factor. It has been a perfect storm over the past few years”, says Mr Hawes.

“It’s really no surprise the market has been declining. That’s why we need a return of confidence and strong economic conditions”.

The situation is not expected to improve this year, however, with the SMMT forecasting a further 1.6 % fall in registrations in 2020.