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September 2018 new car sales: slump in registrations

The UK new car market fell by -20.5% in September according to latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT)
All New Focus arrives in UK showrooms as Ford leads UK sales
Ford extended its retail car sales share to 11.6 per cent, 4.8 percentage points ahead of its nearest rival


17 October 2018

  • The UK new car market fell an astonishing -20.5% in September to 338,834 units -regulatory changes blamed.
  • Volumes down across all sectors – WLTP testing backlogs affect consumer, fleet and business deliveries.
  • Industry welcomes tough new certification test, with even greater range of new-tech cars on way.

THE UK new car market fell by -20.5% in September said the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

There were 338,834 vehicles were registered in the month, down around 87,000 on the previous year – a remarkable slump considering it’s plate change month.

SMMT said new WLTP testing requirements continued to affect supply and distort the market.

Registrations by private consumers, fleets and businesses all declined by -20.1%, -22.4% and -6.3% respectively. Registrations of petrol and diesel cars also fell; hybrids and plug-in electrics fared better, up a modest 3.9%.

SMMT also reported declines across almost every vehicle segment, with MPVs and Specialist Sports cars showing the biggest falls, down -54.8 and -50.9%.

Luxury saloons were the only segment to register growth: up +3.5%. SUV style cars, which have enjoyed strong growth over the year to date, held steadier than most, falling just -3.5% in the month.

The SMMT believed that September’s large decline followed an unusually high August and a turbulent first eight months of the year as the market responded to a raft of upheavals.

This included confusion over diesel policy, VED changes and, latterly, transition to the new WLTP emissions standards.

Year-to-date performance is currently -7.5% behind 2017. However, over the coming months, SMMT believed there would be some rebalancing as an increasing range of new models are certified for sale and backlogs ease.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said:

“With the industry given barely a year to reapprove the entire European model line-up, it’s no surprise that we’ve seen bottlenecks and a squeeze on supply. These are exceptional circumstances with similar declines seen in other major European markets. The good news is that, as backlogs ease, consumers and businesses can look forward to a raft of exciting high-tech cars and a market keen to recover lost momentum.”


Ashley Barnett, Head of Consultancy at Lex Autolease, commented:

“September’s decline is not unexpected, as new emissions testing has disrupted supply and uncertainty in the market is still affecting motorists’ ability to make confident purchasing decisions.  From a company car driver’s perspective, the lack of long-term clarity around tax means there’s no way of knowing a vehicle’s cost for the contract duration. Drivers of low-emission vehicles can be fairly confident that the government will favour them in its longer-term tax planning, but even they are keen for some assurance.

Ashley Barnett, Lex Autolease
Ashley Barnett, Lex Autolease: decline not unexpected

“It’s positive to see that demand for alternatively-fuelled vehicles is increasing, but important to reiterate that all fuel technologies have a role to play.  If we are to meet the government’s ambitious climate change targets, it’s essential that drivers select the right vehicle for the task at hand, and that those who are well-suited to a zero or low-emission vehicle consider making the move.

“We are hopeful that this month’s Budget will provide answers to help all drivers plan for the future.  The new vehicle market plays a vital role in driving replacements across the wider UK fleet, and feeds the second-hand market with newer, cleaner vehicles. As long as replacements continue, older, more polluting vehicles should drop out of the bottom of the market altogether.”


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Nick Sharpe

Nick Sharpe

Nick Sharpe is an automotive content writer for Business Motoring

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