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Fleet sales continue to prop up new car market

Fleet sales produced a 22nd consecutive month of growth for the UK new car market in May, as private sales continued to nose-dive.
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5 June 2024

Fleet sales produced a 22nd consecutive month of growth for the UK new car market in May, as private sales continued to nose-dive.

According to data compiled by industry body the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT), registrations of new cars increased by 1.7% over the month, with 147,678 recorded, but 86,870 of these were to fleets, up by 14% and claiming almost 60% of the entire market. Private car registrations plummeted by 12.9% to 57,453.

Over the year to date the figure remains almost as stark for UK dealers – while overall the market is up 7.1% to 827,500, the private sector has slid more than 11% with fleet sales, up more than 24%, very much driving the market.

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The SMMT described a continuing increase in registrations of battery-electric vehicles (BEVs), up 6.2% in the month and 9.7% year-to-date, as “encouraging” while still below the trajectory mandated on manufacturers by government in its Vehicle Emissions Trading Scheme, which demands 22% of new vehicles sold this year by each brand must be zero emission.

EV uptake, representing 16% of the overall market year to date and 17% in May, is clearly being driven by the incentives being offered to fleet drivers to switch to electric. The concerning figure for all advocating the transition to EVs will be the continuing move away from BEVs by private buyers, slipping by a further 2.0% in May.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes tried to paint a positive picture of the market while repeating calls for the next Government to offer incentives to EV buyers. “The new car market continues to hold steady as large fleets sustain growth, offsetting weakened private retail demand,” he said.

“Consumers enjoy a plethora of new electric models and some very attractive offers, but manufacturers can’t sustain this scale of support on their own indefinitely. Their success so far should be a signpost for the next government that a faster and fairer transition requires carrots, not just sticks.”

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Industry figures are continuing to question how long the fleet sector can sustain growth in UK car sales. “Fleet sales primarily drove BEV market share for the month, while private new car registrations remain, arguably, weak – that reflects a cautious buying public,” Philip Nothard, insight director of Cox Automotive commented.

“Manufacturers are relentless in their commitment to change. More than 100 EV models are on the market, and numerous tempting deals for consumers to go electric – however, the challenge of meeting the government’s 22% zero-emission vehicle mandate this year is significant and requires immediate attention,” Nothard added.

Kim Royds, mobility director at Centrica, highlighted continuing issues over the growth of public charging facilities for EVs. “Access to charging remains one of the main barriers to mass EV adoption,” he said.

“If we are to make electric vehicles accessible for every driver across the UK, then we must tackle the inequality that exists between home and public charging. Investing more in kerbside infrastructure so those without access to driveways can still benefit from affordable charging rates must be a top priority.”

Despite the fleet dominance of the market, combustion-engined cars continue to dominate the top of the sales charts – the Kia Sportage SUV (pictured above) proved the most popular vehicle in May with 4202 registered, and the Ford Puma maintained its place at the top of the year-to-date chart.

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Andrew Charman

Andrew Charman

Andrew Charman has been a motoring journalist for more than 30 years, writing about vehicles, technology and the industry. He is a Guild of Motoring Writers committee member and has won several awards including for his business coverage.

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