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UK new car registrations fell by more than 20% in September compared to the same month last year, according to data released today by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

it might be one of the busiest months of the year for the car industry, but about 87,000 fewer cars were registered this September compared to last year. About 72,500 of that drop came from diesel cars, with 15,000 fewer petrol cars registered. Hybrid and electric cars were up by just under 1,000 units.

Naturally, this has triggered a Pavlovian reaction from many commentators to point their fingers at Brexit and blame the government, but as usual that’s a red herring. This month’s falls are largely the result of new European emissions legislation that has affected the supply of new vehicles all across Europe – not just the UK.

September 2018 new car registrations

Although the numbers look savage, a significant decrease had been expected by many industry figures as a result of new WLTP emissions rules that came into effect from the start of September.

This has caused supply issues from a number of car manufacturers, with many existing models not able to be sold after 31 August unless they have new or upgraded engines. This was seen in last month’s registration figures, which were about 18,000 units up on last year as dealers and manufacturers raced to clear non-complying stock before the deadline.

The good news is that the supply shortages should ease in coming months, so it’s possible that the last three months of the year will be a bit stronger as cars are delivered to waiting customers.

Is Brexit really a factor?

Of course, there will be an element of Brexit uncertainty that will be affecting new car sales, particularly to fleets who have the ability to reduce their overall numbers as they wait to see what will happen over the next 12 months.

Consumer sales are dominated by PCP car finance that means buyers don’t really have the option of delaying a change in vehicles, so dealerships sales will still be ticking along as normal.

However, uncertainty in the market coupled with stock shortages for new cars will almost certainly be good news for used car sales. There will also undoubtedly be plenty of pre-registered cars waiting to be sold off in dealer “secure storage facilities” (ie – fields and car parks) over the coming months.

Ford Fiesta reigns over shuffled top ten

September 2018 best-seller list

The WLTP supply issues have had a dramatic effect on the sales of individual models in September. Not that it seemed to affect the Ford Fiesta at all, which remained firmly ensconced at the top of the tree.

On the other hand, Volkswagen seemed to struggle in September. The Golf and Polo both fell out of the top ten list altogether, and Volkswagen sales overall were down 55% on last year. Audi was also down by 53%, while SEAT was down 37% and Skoda down 31%. This will presumably bring about a complete lack of sympathy from anyone, as it couldn’t happen to a nicer company

The Vauxhall Corsa enjoyed a strong month, leaping to second place and not far behind the dominant Fiesta. It was also good news for the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class, Nissan Qashqai and Juke SUVs, and Mini hatch. The Ford Focus dropped to ninth, presumably as much to do with the changeover of production from the old model to the all-new one as any WLTP factors.

Stuart Masson
Stuart Masson
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.

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