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Last month’s new car registration numbers were the best ever recorded for the month of August since the current registration system was introduced in 2001. Whilst this is obviously good news, it’s probably not time to break out the bunting and cake just yet.

August and February are the two slowest months of the year for new car sales, but this year there has been added incentive for manufacturers and dealers to clear out their stock due to new fuel economy rules that made a lot of cars unable to be sold after 31 August. Like any supermarket faced with stock approaching its use-by date, that has meant heavy discounting by dealers to get cars out the door at all costs.

More than 90,000 new cars were registered in August 2018 compared to about 76,000 in the same month last year, which is an enormous 23% increase. That sounds great, and it’s definitely welcome news, but bear in mind that September’s numbers should be around 200,000 cars, so it’s not massively important in the overall scheme of things. Some manufacturers have been warning of stock shortages as they scramble to build enough cars that comply with the new WLTP economy and emissions rules, which means September is not likely to see another month of records being broken.

August 2018 new registrations

Within the sales numbers, it looks like a good month for AFVs (basically electric and hybrid cars), whose market share hit an all-time high of 8% in August – an 89% increase on the same month last year. Hopefully this rate of improvement will continue, but it’s more likely to settle back towards the year-long 27% rate of improvement in coming months.

Diesel sales were down again, although an 8% fall on last year is actually the best result in a long time, compared to falls of 20-30% that we have become accustomed to seeing on a monthly basis. However, diesel’s overall market share still fell to a new low of less than 30%.

Interest rate rise appears to have had no effect

Just like last November, the strong results for August show that the Bank of England’s minor increase in official interest rates has had no visible effect on new car sales.

It will take a few more months to see if the latest rate rise will impact the rest of this year, but it certainly didn’t appear to hurt sales in the immediate aftermath and media coverage of the rise. The Bank of England will presumably be watching closely.

Topsy-turvy top ten

The level of market chaos in August is represented quite clearly in the top ten best-seller list. While all carried on as normal for the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagens Golf and Polo in the top three, there was considerable movement below. The Ford Kuga jumped from eighth to fourth, while the BMW 3 Series, SEAT Leon, Honda Jazz and Suzuki Swift all jumped into the top ten to fill positions five to eight.

The Nissan Qashqai dropped from fifth place in July to ninth and the Kia Sportage held onto tenth place. The Vauxhall Corsa, Audi A3, Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Volkswagen Tiguan all dropped out of the top ten altogether.

August 2018 top ten new cars

Looking beyond the top ten models, it was a strong month for MG, Jaguar, Suzuki, Subaru and Bentley, who all recorded registration numbers vastly greater than last year. On the other side of the ledger, things were not so sunny for Infiniti, DS Automobiles, Nissan, Fiat or Citroën, who all saw significant falls in a growing market.

However, as mentioned, different manufacturers have had varying requirements to clear out old stock, so this may swing significantly again in the coming months.

What to expect in September

September is usually the second-biggest month of year for new car sales, following the slowest month of the year in August. However, it’s highly likely that the extra 14,000+ new car registrations for August will almost entirely come out of September’s figures as dealers encouraged buyers to take an 18-plate car with a sweet deal in August instead of holding out for a 68-plate car in September.

Coupled with this, we may see that stock shortages reduce the ability of dealers to get new cars on the road, with customers having to wait longer for their new cars to arrive. This could mean that September fails to hit the 200,000 new car registration mark for the first time since 2012 – although that, in turn, could provide a bit of a boost for numbers in October and November.

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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