Although the new car registration results for April were something of a mixed bag for the car industry, there was good news for British car manufacturing as two of the three best-selling new cars were built here in the UK.
The April data, published this morning by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), showed that private new car sales were slightly up compared to results for last April, but fleet registrations were down by a third. That ended up dragging down the overall results by 16% compared to the same month last year.
New car sales continue to be heavily limited by the supply of crucial components, particularly semiconductor chips that are used in many different areas of a car. Some manufacturers are now also being hampered the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has affected supplies of other vehicle components that are produced in Ukrainian factories.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom for the car industry. The production problems of the last two years, firstly from Covid shutdowns and now through parts shortages, have led to dramatic changes in how car companies sell their cars. This is actually a much healthier position for the car industry to be in.
After decades of heavy discounting and financial incentives to artificially stimulate demand for new models, car companies currently enjoy the luxury of being able to sell their products at full price – meaning that most of them are actually making more money now than they have in a long time, despite building and selling far fewer cars.
For customers, unfortunately, this means that prices are significantly higher simply because there are simply fewer discounts available. This is particularly impacting fleet sales, as car companies are less inclined to offer massive discounts to fleet companies who purchase many thousands of cars – if you can’t supply the cars anyway, there’s no need to discount them.
Electric growth slows
After a buoyant start to the year for electric and plug-in hybrid car sales, April wasn’t quite as strong as expected; EV registrations were still up by 41% compared to the same month last year, but that’s less growth than we’ve seen in recent months. Plug-in hybrid sales were down 37%, but this is more likely to be a blip than a long-term trend.
For fully electric cars, the numbers are heavily influenced by Tesla, which operates very differently to most car manufacturers by not having a traditional dealer network. As such, its sales numbers fluctuate far more than other car companies. After holding the top two spots on the best-sellers list in March, Tesla pretty much vanished from the sales charts altogether in April with almost no reported sales whatsoever (after registering about 13,000 new car sales in March, it appears that Tesla sold no more than a few hundred in April).
Year-to-date, sales of electric cars are still up by nearly 90% as more and more new models enter the new car market. Plug-in hybrid sales are pretty flat compared to the same period for 2021, but renewed growth is likely in the second half of the year.
Good month, bad month
Ford powered back to the top of the sales charts for the first time in a long time in April, off the back of strong sales for its Puma and Kuga SUVs. Audi was close behind in second place, with Kia dropping to third after being the biggest-selling manufacturer in March. Ford also took the overall sales lead for 2022 as a result, although the margin to Kia is miniscule.
Despite the overall market being down 16% compared to April last year, there was considerable variation throughout the industry as car companies battled their supply chain demons.
It was a good month for Alfa Romeo, Alpine, Bentley, Cupra, Dacia, DS Automobiles, Fiat, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Maserati, Mazda, MG, Mini, Nissan, Polestar, Renault, SsangYong and Suzuki. All of these outperformed the overall market by at least 10%.
A notable ongoing absence from each month’s data is Tesla, which doesn’t report its overall numbers to the SMMT.
Qashqai and Mini fly the flag for Britain
Once again, the top ten chart in April was a bit of a mix-up and that pattern is only going to continue in coming months.
It was good news for workers in Sunderland as the Nissan Qashqai took the title of the UK’s best-selling new car in April. Meanwhile, their compatriots in Oxford enjoyed yet another good month for the Mini hatchback, which was the country’s third best-selling new car.
In overall year-to-date registrations, the Vauxhall Corsa remains in the top spot ahead of the Ford Puma, while the Nissan Qashqai has surged from eighth place last month to third.
We’ll have our usual monthly analysis of the top ten out shortly.