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Fleet sales up, private sales down in May

Private new car sales slowed while fleet registrations recovered – market trends continued in May

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Consumer new car sales were down for the second month in a row according to May registration figures published this morning, although fleet sales were again up, which meant the overall market saw growth of 17%. EV sales showed small signs of improvement as well.

Data published today by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) showed that private new car sales were down by half a percentage point over the same month last year, while fleet registrations were up by 37%, leading to an overall market increase of 17%.

Although the overall results are being touted as a record tenth consecutive month of ‘growth’, it’s more accurate to describe it as another month of ongoing recovery as the car industry continues to get back up to speed after more than three years of disruption.

Fewer than 65,000 new cars were registered to private customers in May, which is 17% fewer than the 79,000-odd registered in May 2019, the last year before the Covid-19 pandemic. And although a 37% growth in fleet numbers looks good, it’s still 24% behind the 2019 results. So the overall market is still 21% below pre-pandemic levels.

Private sales falling behind last year

Car manufacturers will be concerned about the ongoing reluctance of consumers to buy new cars. A small decrease compared to last year (about 300 cars) might seem relatively inconsequential, but last year was 10% down on the year before so the industry would have been hoping for better.

After another month of slowing sales, the private new car market is now 3,000 units behind last year’s results after the first five months of the year. This is despite improving new car availability with reduced waiting times, and more deals returning to the marketplace.

For fleets, it was another month of welcome, yet superficial, improvement. The numbers were 37% better than last year, but last year was 30% down on the year before – and that was one of the better months in 2022 for fleet registrations.

So it is certainly good news, but not quite as good as various press releases (that bounced through only minutes after the SMMT data was published) would have you believe.


BuyerMay 2023May 2022% changeMarket share 2023Market share 2022
Source: SMMT

Year to date

BuyerYTD 2023YTD 2022% changeMarket share 2023Market share 2022
Source: SMMT

EV sales improve, but not as much as they need to

EV registration data followed a similar story – some superficially good results, but somewhat lacking when you look a little deeper.

The headline figure is that EV sales were up 59% on the same month last year, which is true. But this result still meant that EV market share was still only at about the same level as the whole-year results for 2022. Given that we are supposed to be ramping up to the end of new petrol and diesel car sales by 2030, the growth is stil sub-par.

The month’s results were also helped by a boatload of deliveries from Tesla, which registered more than 3,400 cars this May compared to just 25 last year. As we frequently remind regular readers, Tesla causes masssive swings in the EV market because of its boom-and-bust nature of operations.

Year-to-date, EV market share is stronger than it was over the same period last year, but still behind 2022’s full-year results. That’s despite an ever-increasing number of electric models entering the marketplace and pricing generally getting more competitive against petrol cars. In other words, we’re going to need another very strong second half of the year to see real progress towards the 2030 targets.

Plug-in hybrids showed small improvement, but also remain behind year-to-date results in terms of overall market share. Diesel sales continue to fall, to no-one’s surprise, while petrol’s overall market share was up slightly.

We’ll analyse market share in more detail next month, which marks the first half of 2023 new car sales. This will be more relevant than looking at individual months.

New car registrations by fuel type – May

FuelMay 2023May 2022% changeMarket share 2023Market share 2022
Plug-in hybrid9,0257,33923.0%6.2%5.9%

*includes mild hybrids
Source: SMMT

New car registrations by fuel type – Year to date

FuelYTD 2023YTD 2022% changeMarket share 2023Market share 2022
Plug-in hybrid49,38543,54911.5%6.4%6.6%

*includes mild hybrids
Source: SMMT

Good month, bad month

Even with overall market improvement of 17%, there were some brands that did even better and some brands than underachieved compared to the same month last year.

May 2023 was a good month for Alpine, Audi, Cupra, Genesis, Lexus, Maserati, Mazda, MG, Nissan, Polestar, Porsche, Renault, Skoda, SsangYong, Subaru, Suzuki, Tesla and Volvo. All of these brands outperformed the overall market by at least 10%.

Meanwhile, things didn’t go as well for Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Bentley, BMW, Citroën, DS Automobiles, Fiat, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Jeep, Kia, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Mini, Peugeot, SEAT and Smart. All of these brands underachieved against the overall market by at least 10% – and some by a lot more than that…

That means that the following brands were more or less in line with the overall market growth: Dacia, Jaguar, Toyota, Vauxhall and Volkswagen.

Audi was the UK’s biggest-selling brand in May, edging out parent company Volkswagen. Ford was third, ahead of Kia and Vauxhall.


RankBrandRegistrationsMarket share

Source: SMMT

Year to date

RankBrandRegistrationsMarket share

Source: SMMT

Ford Puma stays on top in May

The Ford Puma remained at the top of the sales charts for a second month in May with another strong result, which also means that it has grabbed the overall 2023 sales lead from the Vauxhall Corsa.

The top ten was rather jumbled in May, with strong performances from the Vauxhall Mokka, Audi A3, Volvo XC40, Tesla Model Y and Toyota Yaris. From last month’s top ten, the Kia Sportage, Volkswagen T-Roc, Ford Fiesta, MG ZS and Mini hatched were all dumped out.

The Nissan Juke continued its strog run in 2023, moving up to fourth place in year-to-date sales behind its bigger sister, the Qashqai.

We’ll have our usual detailed look at the top ten in the next couple of days.


1Ford Puma4,184
2Nissan Qashqai3,140
3Vauxhall Mokka3,066
4Vauxhall Corsa3,028
5Audi A33,018
6Hyundai Tucson2,712
7Volvo XC402,699
8Nissan Juke2,534
9Tesla Model Y2,509
10Toyota Yaris2,484

Source: SMMT

Year to date

1Ford Puma17,312
2Vauxhall Corsa17,062
3Nissan Qashqai16,751
4Nissan Juke15,124
5Hyundai Tucson15,090
6Kia Sportage14,976
7Tesla Model Y14,012
8Ford Fiesta12,714
9Mini hatch12,670
10Volkswagen T-Roc12,053

Source: SMMT

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Stuart Masson
Stuart Massonhttps://www.thecarexpert.co.uk/
Stuart is the Editorial Director of our suite of sites: The Car Expert, The Van Expert and The Truck Expert. Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the automotive industry for over thirty years. He spent a decade in automotive retail, and now works tirelessly to help car buyers by providing independent and impartial advice.