New car sales suffer again in February

Best first cars for new drivers - Ford Fiesta
5 Mar, 2018 10:40am Hugo Griffiths

Registrations down 2.8 per cent in February as diesel decline counters growth in petrol and alternative fuel sales

New car registrations fell by 2.8 per cent in February compared to the same month last year, with 80,805 new cars finding homes. Sharp increases in the popularity of petrol and alternatively-fuelled vehicles (AFVs) failed to bridge the gap left by a decline in sales of diesel models.

Official figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show that sales of new diesels fell by 23.5 per cent last month, meaning diesel cars now make up 35.6 per cent of the market – a sharp contrast to 2012, when they accounted for 51.3 per cent new car sales.

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There was some good news in February’s figures, however: a far greater number of petrol and alternatively-fuelled vehicles (essentially hybrids and electric cars) were registered, with increases of 14.4 and 7.2 per cent compared to February 2017 respectively.

Last month’s decline will no doubt concern dealers and manufacturers, but broader analysis reveals that aside from February 2017 and 2016, one has to go back as far as 2004 to find a better February for new car sales.

The Ford Fiesta was the most popular car last month with 5,201 models sold, while the Volkswagen Golf came second, and the Ford Focus third.

Commenting on these latest figures, Mike Hawes, chief executive of the SMMT, said: “Although the new car market has dipped, it remains at a good level despite the drop in demand for diesel. Consumers should be reassured, however, that the latest cars are the cleanest in history and can help address air quality issues, which is why they are exempt from any restrictions.”

Hawes cautioned, however, that March’s number plate change might not bring about as significant a surge in sales as previous years have seen: “Looking ahead to the crucial number plate change month of March, we expect a further softening, given March 2017 was a record as registrations were pulled forward to avoid VED changes.”

UK new car sales down in January

February's figures follow a trend set in January 2018, which saw a 6.3 per cent decline on the same month in 2017. Business sales were down by a hefty 29.7 per cent, with private and fleet buyers falling by 9.5 and 1.8 per cent respectively.

The figures, released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), echo last year's full sales figures, which showed a 5.7 per cent fall in sales across 2017.

There were some success stories in January's data, however: SUV sales were up 6.6 per cent, and now account for a fifth of the new car market. Petrol’s popularity also grew, by 8.5 per cent, and 23.9 per cent more alternatively-fuelled vehicles - generally hybrids and electric cars - were sold in January 2018 compared to 2017.

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Things were less encouraging elsewhere though: demand for diesels dropped by 25.6 per cent compared to January 2017, while the MPV, executive and city car segments experienced the biggest declines.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said at the time: “The ongoing and substantial decline in new diesel car registrations is concerning, particularly since the evidence indicates consumers and businesses are not switching into alternative technologies, but keeping their older cars running.

“Given fleet renewal is the fastest way to improve air quality and reduce CO2, we need government policy to encourage take up of the latest advanced low emission diesels as, for many drivers, they remain the right choice economically and environmentally.”

What's causing the decline in new car sales in the UK? Join the debate in the comments area below...