Private new car sales were down by less than 2% in August, which was a slightly better result than recent months according to the latest figures published today.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reports that the overall market was down 1.6% in August, which only equates to about 1,500 fewer vehicles in what is traditionally one of the quietest months of the year for new car registrations.
Total new car registrations in August were about 92,000, compared to the 350,000ish we can expect in September. It should also be pointed out that it was the second-best August on record, behind only last year. However, this is likely to be for reasons other than buyers actually getting out and buying cars.
Diesel’s market share remained at about 26% as it has been for the last couple of months, suggesting that the slide in diesel is probably bottoming out – or at least slowing to a more manageable level for manufacturers and dealers.
There was good news for registrations of electric vehicles, which saw an enormous increase in year-on-year registrations – thanks largely to the UK launch of the new Tesla Model 3. However, this still equates to a market share of only 3%, showing that much more needs to be done in this area.
Hybrid vehicles also continued to grow, but plug-in hybrids are still struggling with numbers less than a third of full-electric vehicles. The fairly irrelevant mild hybrid vehicle registrations (which used to be counted as normal petrol or diesel cars, since they can’t move under electrical power) are also growing.
Industry wary of September slump
September is one of the two biggest months of the year for new car sales, with new number plates traditionally drawing buyers into showrooms.
After a terrible result last September, largely driven by manufacturers not having enough cars available that complied with new emissions regulations, the industry is wary of another potentially difficult month this year.
The Brexit paralysis in parliament is dragging on and seems almost certain to roll into next year, coupled with the threat of a general election in the near future. Both of these will undoubtedly continue to put customers off buying a new car if they have the ability to delay it.
While nearly all private new cars are bought on PCP finance, which basically forces a customer into another car when the agreement ends, the industry has been pushing customers into longer contract terms, meaning they’re not coming back as often. But, inevitably, the industry refuses to countenance the possibility of that actually being the main cause of the fall in new car registrations.
Good month, bad month
August was a good month for Alfa Romeo, Audi, Dacia, DS Automobiles, Jeep, Lexus, Maserati, MG, Porsche, SsangYong, Toyota and Volvo, who all saw registration numbers jump by at least 10% compared to the same month last year. As with last month, we’re fairly cynical about a few of those named and believe that there may have been a lot of self-registering going on to result in those gains.
However, it was unhappy times for Abarth, Alpine, Bentley, BMW, Fiat, Honda, Infiniti, Jaguar, Land Rover, Smart, Subaru and Suzuki, who all suffered declines of more than 10% compared to last August.
Fiesta and Golf lead Other(s)
As usual, the Ford Fiesta topped the sales charts in August, ahead of the Volkswagen Golf. Third place, however, was listed as ‘Other’. This was an excellent result for Other, which has not appeared in the top ten for a long time.
There has been suggestion that Other is actually the new Tesla Model 3, which launched in August. Certainly, the massive growth in electric car registrations would support this. It would certainly be an impressive debut, but it is unlikely that Tesla would be able to continue selling cars at this rate every month. The likelihood is that it was a calculated strategy to generate headlines in a quiet month.
The Volkswagen T-Roc also had a good month, making its first appearance in the top ten in seventh place. This came at the expense of the Nissan Qashqai, Volkswagen Polo and Kia Sportage, which all fell out.
As usual, we will explore the top-ten results in more detail over the next few days.