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New car market ends crazy year on a low note

Private new car sales down 14% in December, bringing a difficult year to a muted end.

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Private new car sales were down by 14% in December according to data published yesterday by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), bringing a difficult year for the car industry to a muted end.

Fleet registrations were slightly stronger, being ‘only’ 8% down on the same month a year earlier, meaning that the overall market was down 11% compared to the previous December. As coronavirus restrictions affected some regions of the country towards the end of the month, it’s not surprising that private new car sales suffered more than fleet numbers as some dealerships were forced to close. Retail customers tend to buy their new cars from showrooms while fleets tend to go through brokers or fleet departments, which were less affected by closures.

The December results complete the full-year data for 2020, which showed that the private new car market ended up nearly 27% down on 2019. The fleet market was down 31%, meaning that overall new car registrations were down 29% on the previous year. We’ll have a more detailed look at the whole year numbers in a separate article over the next few days.

Massive month for electric cars

However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. December was a huge good-news month for electric cars, with the Tesla Model 3 topping the charts and the new Volkswagen ID.3 making its UK debut in fourth place. Pure electric cars outsold diesels for the first time ever, and electrified cars overall (which includes hybrids and plug-in hybrids) made up almost 30% of all new car registrations in December.

While this was inevitably bad news for sales of new diesel cars, which fell to a new all-time low of 16%, the growth of electrified cars also took a large chunk out of petrol car sales as well. This will only continue as more electrified cars arrive on the market in 2021.

Good month, bad month

As always in December, there were some car companies who were desperate to clear stocks of the current models or try to inflate their sales numbers, leading to some odd-looking data that was almost certainly due to self-registration of vehicles. Meanwhile, other companies clearly decided that they were satisfied with their overall position and didn’t make such attempts to finish off the year with any big numbers.

Alfa Romeo, Jaguar, Jeep, Maserati, Nissan, Porsche, SEAT, Smart, Toyota, Vauxhall, Volkswagen and Volvo all reported registrations that were at least 10% better than the overall market – and in some cases, astoundingly better than the market.

Meanwhile, numbers were well down for Alpine, Bentley, BMW, Citroën, Dacia, DS Automobiles, Fiat, Ford, Honda, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mini, Mitsubishi, Renault, Subaru and Suzuki. All of these brands reported registrations that were at least 10% worse than the overall market – and some were massively down, suggesting that those manufacturers were making no effort to offer any particular deals to lure customers out for Christmas bargains.

Tesla to the top in electric power surge

For the third time this year, the Tesla Model 3 topped the sales charts. However, unlike April and May, when the whole UK was locked down and most car companies couldn’t deliver new cars to customers, this was a seriously good result from Tesla. Almost 5,800 Model 3s found new homes in December, compared to 658 and 852 in April and May when it was also the country’s best-selling car.

Also impressive was the debut of Volkswagen’s new ID.3 electric hatchback, which took fourth place in the best-sellers charts. Even more impressive was that VW’s new ‘electric Golf’ didn’t seem to hurt sales of the actual Golf, which sold nearly 4,500 units.

The rest of the top ten looked fairly familiar from recent months’s results. The Ford Fiesta outsold the Vauxhall Corsa to end a tough 2020 on a positive note as it wrapped up yet another year as the country’s best-selling car. But the Corsa looks to be a serious chance to take that title next year, which will be interesting to watch.

The only other point of interest in the top ten was that the Volvo XC40’s strong run continued in December, which allowed it to finish the year as the UK’s tenth best-selling car, taking the final spot from the BMW 1 Series right at the end of the year. We’ll have our usual analysis of the top ten in coming days, as well as a look at the overall best sellers of 2020.

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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.