New car sales down 5% in June

Industry figures concerned about ongoing slump in plug-in hybrid sales

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Private new car sales fell nearly 5% in June, according to the latest registration data published today by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). In comparison, fleet registrations were down by 2.5%.

June falls about halfway between the two registration-plate change months of March and September, so it’s not unusual to see private sales taking a lower percentage of the overall numbers, as fleets tend be less bothered about the numbers on the number plates than private buyers. So a market share of 40% for private new car buyers, against a year-to-date average of 45%, is fairly normal and exactly the same as last year’s performance.

Among the industry’s chief concerns is the continued slump in sales of plug-in hybrid vehicles, which continue to run at about half of what they were this time last year. This is due to a combination of lack of availability of these vehicles in dealerships and the removal of government grants for plug-in hybrid models, which made them about £4,500 dealer overnight last November. In fact, plug-in hybrids were outsold by full electric vehicles in June.

The SMMT has finally started breaking down the ‘alternative fuel vehicle’ category to show the specific registrations for electric cars, plug-in hybrids, regular hybrids and mild hybrids, which is more useful than lumping them all together (even if it’s debatable whether mild hybrids should be listed under their own category instead of just included in overall petrol or diesel numbers). This will cause some short-term confusion over the next few months but will settle down eventually.

Diesel’s popularity continues to wane, falling slightly below the year-to-date average of 27%, but it remains a steady decline for what used to the most popular fuel source in the UK. Registrations of regular hybrids were also down by just under 5% as well, although this appears to be a temporary blip since sales are well up on a year-to-date comparison with last year. Two-thirds of all new car were petrol-powered.

June 2019 new car sales by fuel type | The Car Expert
The SMMT has started breaking down registrations by fuel type in much more detail

First half of 2019 shows longer-term trends

As we have now hit the half-year point of 2019, we can look at the year-to-date figures to see some long-term trends. Private new car sales are down 3%, with the majority of that fall coming in the last three months after a reasonably solid start to the year. Fleet registrations are only down 1% for the first six months of the year, which is somewhat surprising given the ongoing concern of businesses up and down the country regarding Brexit.

Diesel continues to fall in popularity, down nearly 20% on last year, which was a similar amount down on the previous year. We can expect this to continue, although an eventual bottoming-out must be coming soon.

Despite a poor month in June, registrations of regular hybrids are up 17% up on the first half of last year. The lack of plug-in hybrid sales appears to be getting worse, so we will see if that recovers over the next few months as more new models come on stream. Full-electric cars continue to grow strongly, up 60% over the first six months of the year, although they still represent less than 1% of the overall market.

Two-thirds of all new cars registered in 2019 have been petrol-powered, with this share steadily increasing as diesel sales correspondingly decline.

Good month, bad month

June was a good month for Dacia, Lotus, MG and Toyota, who all reported growth of more than 10% in June. A few other big-volume brands also held their numbers or at least did better than the overall market average of a 5% fall. In particular, Ford and Audi recorded better performances than they have all year.

The news wasn’t as happy for Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Bentley, BMW, Citroën, DS Automobiles, Fiat, Honda, Infiniti, Maserati, McLaren, Skoda, Smart, SsangYong, Suzuki, Vauxhall and Volkswagen, who all recorded sales numbers down at least 10% on the same month last year.

Small cars sell up a storm

It was a big month for small cars in June, with the eternally market-leading Ford Fiesta followed by the Vauxhall Corsa and Mini hatch on the best-sellers list. The Toyota Yaris bounced back into Top Ten at seventh, followed by the Volkswagen Polo in eighth.

The rest of the Top Ten list was made up of four mid-size hatchbacks (VW Golf, Ford Focus, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class) and only the Nissan Qashqai flying the flag for the SUV/crossover segment. Don’t start writing your obituaries for 4x4s just yet, however, as their overall popularity isn’t going to collapse anytime soon.

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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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