The month-long lockdown of car showrooms in England rendered the overall new car sales figures for November pretty worthless, although the industry was far better prepared this time around than it was back in the Spring and still managed to deliver a strong number of new cars.
Private new car sales were down 32% on the same month last year, according to data published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) today, while fleet registrations were down 22%, for an overall drop of 27% on November 2019’s numbers.
Of course, the other way of looking at the data is that the industry still managed to deliver about three-quarters of the total number of cars delivered this time last year, despite showrooms in England being closed all month and enormous economic uncertainty for millions of families across the UK. When viewed from that angle, it looks like a pretty decent result.
Since the first national lockdown, considerable efforts have been made industry-wide to improve click-and-collect and home delivery services for new car buyers. This work looks to have paid off, avoiding a return to the catastrophic business losses of April and May. As showrooms re-open in England this week, dealers will be hoping for a strong month to at least end a tough year on a positive note.
Fleet registrations outperform private sales
For the first time in most of the year, it was fleet buyers leading the way in November. The SMMT press release didn’t speculate on the reasons why fleet registrations suddenly showed significant improvement, but there are several factors that could have contributed.
1) A large percentage of fleet sales bypass dealerships anyway, being handled by large leasing firms or brokers directly with the manufacturer fleet sales departments. With workshops still able to operate during the lockdown, these orders could still be processed.
2) With new car prices expected to increase in 2021, regardless of whether the UK and EU ever manage to sort out a trade deal, some fleets may have decided to bring forward orders from the next few months to beat any price rises. In the same vein, businesses that had been putting off fleet renewals for most of this year may have decided to commit now ahead of those price increases.
3) Some brands did considerably better than the overall market average, suggesting that they may have been pre-registering thousands of unsold cars to help clear out unwanted stock.
Record month for electrified cars
It may have been connected to the government’s announcement that all new petrol and diesel car sales would end by 2030, or it may be too early for that news to have had any effect, but November saw another record month for electric cars.
Full-electric vehicles snared 9% of the new car market, while plug-in hybrids (the only other kind of new car likely to be on sale in 2030) took nearly 7% market share. Regular hybrids were slightly below their 2020 run rate at just over 6%, although that’s still better than the same month last year. Combined, that makes a total of more than 22% market share for electrified cars.
Diesel had yet another worst month ever for market share, at 18% (including mild hybrid diesels), while petrol models slipped to just under 60%, which is the lowest it’s been for a while. Expect this direction of travel to start accelerating in 2021 as the shift away from pure petrol and diesel cars accelerates.
Diesel’s market share will keep slipping, albeit probably more slowly as the only customers still buying diesel cars are the ones who genuinely need them. Petrol’s market share will start falling more dramatically, repeating the fate of diesel over the last three or four years as the move towards electrification gathers pace.
Good month, bad month, worse month
There were very few brands who actually sold more cars in November 2020 than they did in November 2019. In fact, there were two. Porsche sales were surprisingly up 17%, while Smart more than doubled its results from the same point last year (although this was still less than 100 cars, so not exactly an earth-shaking result).
In a market that was down by 27% year-on-year, some brands did better than others. Audi, Bentley, BMW, Maserati, MG, Mini, Nissan, Peugeot and Volvo all finished at least 10% better than the overall market.
Meanwhile, several brands struggled badly, especially those that either don’t have strong fleet sales or don’t have a strong online sales presence. Dacia, DS Automobiles, Fiat, Honda, Hyundai, Jeep, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, SEAT, SsangYong, Subaru and Suzuki all ended up with registration figures that were at least 10% worse than the overall market (and in some cases, a lot worse).
Given that Porsche, Bentley and Maserati all had very good months, it seems that either the rich aren’t struggling too much as a result of coronavirus or there may be some unusual registration activity going on. Conversely, a lot of budget brands performed poorly – even MG was well below its usual record-setting pace. This may be because those brands rely more on private customers than fleet business, and/or they don’t have a strong online sales presence and struggled without showroom traffic.
Corsa on top again, closing gap to Fiesta
Over the last six months of the year, the new Vauxhall Corsa has been the stand-out seller. And November saw it once again hit the top of the charts, edging out the Volkswagen Golf and puling closer to the Ford Fiesta in year-to-date sales. With only one month left in this cursed year, it seems unlikely that the Corsa can overhaul a 2,400-unit deficit unless Ford runs out of Fiestas to sell sometime next week, but it will probably come close.
The Fiesta fell to equal eighth place in November, tied with the Volvo XC40 and just behind the Ford Puma. It’s been a tough year for the perennial champ, and its cause probably hasn’t been helped by the Puma starting to cannibalise a chunk of its sales.
The Nissan Qashqai bounced back into the top ten after disappearing in October, while the BMW 1 Series fell back out after its brief appearance last month, but otherwise it was the same models as last month in a slightly shuffled order. In year-to-date sales, there were no changes in the top ten this month and probably won’t be in the last month of the year – unless the Ford Puma can leapfrog the Volkswagen Polo at the last minute.
We’ll have our usual analysis of the top ten sellers in the next day or so.