Private new car sales were up by 3% in January, confounding expert predictions that buyers were staying away from showrooms due to uncertainty over Brexit.
More predictably, however, fleet registrations were down by just over 3%, meaning that the overall market ended up 1.6% down on the same month last year, according to the latest figures published this week by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
Almost certainly connected to both of the above was another dip in diesel registrations, which are now bought in far greater numbers by fleets than private customers. Diesel dropped below 30% in market share, the lowest it has been since September.
However, the other side to that coin is strong growth in alternatively-fuelled vehicles (electric and hybrid cars), which are apparently being bought in better numbers by private customers – who are prepared to pay more for greener vehicles than fleet buyers.
Again, it’s important to remember that the fall in diesel cars is not a UK phenomenon. The EU equivalent of the UK’s SMMT, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) today reported that diesel sales fell across Europe by 23% for the last quarter of 2018.
Growth in electric and hybrid cars is not as impressive as it looks
The SMMT was very keen to talk up the year-on-year growth in electric and hybrid numbers, with nearly half of this month’s press release devoted to the subject. But it’s worth noting that January 2019’s market share of 6.8% was still lower than the average for all of 2018, at 6.9% – so actual growth is somewhat ambiguous.
Real continued growth has been stalled by limited availability of plug-in hybrid models since the new WLTP fuel economy and emissions laws came into force last September. In fact, several of the best-selling plug-in models were pulled from sale due to non-compliance, and will gradually return over the course of the coming year once they meet the new rules.
Good month, bad month
Once again, it was a miserable month for Audi, down 27% against the same month last year – which equates to more than 3,000 cars. The only good news, I suppose, is that a 27% fall is actually a considerable improvement on Audi results over the last four months, which have been down between 40% and 50% every month since September.
It’s also yet another month where Audi’s falls are greater than the overall market. This is partly due to WLTP compliance problems, but also a combination of Audi’s heavy reliance on diesel cars and almost non-existent electric or hybrid options.
Ford was down 15%, which also equates to about 3,000 cars, while Nissan was down 12% despite a strong month from its best-selling Qashqai. Porsche was down 42%, Mitsubishi was down 22% and Smart was down by 18%.
Ford Fiesta and Focus top the tables
It’s not really breaking news to report that the Ford Fiesta was the best-selling car in January, but it was a strong month for its bigger brother, the Focus, which jumped from seventh place in December up into second place in January.
Good news, too, for the British-built Nissan Qashqai, which has started the year in third place, up from tenth in December. The Mini hatch fell out of the top ten altogether after a strong performance in December, while the Volkswagen Golf edged out the Mercedes-Benz A-Class for fourth place.