New car sales up for tenth consecutive month

The UK government has announced it is temporarily reintroducing the Plug-in Car Grant (PiCG) due to the continuing delays in manufacturing supply chains, including the conflict in Ukraine and the global semiconductor shortage.

New car registrations have risen for the tenth month in a row, the market’s best run of consecutive growth in eight years, with the reinvestment in car fleets offsetting a still-subdued private buyer market.

In May 145,000 new cars were registered in the UK, up 16.7 per cent on the same month last year, while sales in the first five months rose to 772,000, up from 661,000 in the same period in 2022, an increase of 16.8 per cent.

Almost all of the growth is in registrations to organisations with a fleet of 25 or more cars, a part of the market which is currently accounting for more than half of sales.

Growth in fleet in the year to date is currently running at more than 38 per cent, with corporates particularly active in taking electrified vehicles to meet environmental targets.

In stark contrast, sales to private buyers have stalled, down 0.9 per cent year on year.

While the trade cheered the momentum in sales it is equally aware that registrations remain down 21 per cent on pre-pandemic levels in 2019. Volumes this May were actually lower than in the same month in 2021. For a wider context, current sales are not much better than in the first half of 2009 when the country was slumping into a recession following the global banking crisis.

Sales of electrified cars, while growing year on year, have stalled as a proportion of the market. Registrations of fully battery-electric cars have in 2023 so far accounted for 15.7 per cent of the market. That compares with a 16.6 per cent market share for 2022 as a whole.

There appears to be a continued flight to hybrids with very low zero-emission capability, with the segment taking 12.8 per cent of the market in the year to date compared with 11.6 per cent for 2022 as a whole.

With diesel sales dwindling to just 8 per cent, petrol as a share of the market remains strong, at more than 57 per cent.

With a zero-emission vehicle mandate coming in at the turn of the year, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) says that the government and industry need to get themselves into gear. On current indications the mandate will demand that manufacturers sell at least 22 per cent of their volumes as fully electric or face financial penalties.

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the SMMT, said: “Transforming the market nationwide at an even greater pace means we must increase demand and help any reticent driver overcome any concerns about electric vehicles. This will require every stakeholder — industry, government, chargepoint operators and energy companies — to play their part, accelerating investment to drive decarbonisation.”

Sue Robinson, of the National Franchised Dealers Association, said: “Charging infrastructure across the UK remains the main issue on the showroom floor when dealers are advising customers on their next choice of vehicle.”

While Ford has for some time now lost its place as Britain’s favourite car brand to Volkswagen after a five-decade dominance, one of its models is back as the country’s best-seller. With the end of production of the Ford Fiesta, which over the past two decades helped the US carmaker retain its pre-eminence in the UK, its replacement, the Ford Puma, is the bestseller in the year to date. Sales of 17,300 Pumas just topped that of the Vauxhall Corsa. The Nissan Qashqai, Britain’s bestseller of 2022, was in third place.