New car sales cool in August

After a very strong month of new car registrations in July, it was a more realistic set of results in August, with private sales down 2%.

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After a very strong month of new car sales in July, it was a return to a more realistic set of results in August. Private new car sales were down just under 2% compared to the same month last year, while fleet registrations were down by more than 5% and business registrations (which only make up a small proportion of the overall market) were down 58%.

Although the industry will be disapointed with these numbers, there are no great surprises in this month’s data as published this morning by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). August is a quiet month at the best of times, with most buyers preferring to hang on another month and get a new car on a new number plate in September. Add in the economic uncertainties that go far beyond the new car market and it’s no surprise that the market was down.

The big test for the new car market will be the September results, as this is when the big numbers traditionally roll in. Some dealers have claimed to be carrying a lot of orders while other industry figures have sounded much more cautious. There will certainly be a high degree of carryover from customers who ordered cars earlier this year and have preferred to wait until September to take delivery, but the key question will be how much new business is forthcoming. This is where no-one in the industry is particularly confident.

Electric cars still growing, but is it fast enough?

Electric cars made up more than 6% of the new car market in August, which is better than in July and similar to June. Plug-in hybrid sales continue to hover around the 3% mark, which is the same as the year-to-date figures.

Whilst this is a considerable improvement over the same periods last year – both month-on-month and year-to-date – there is concern within the industry that customers are not embracing electrified vehicles quickly enough.

The industry, as ever, is primarily concerned with protecting its own interests. The SMMT issued a press release overnight that moaned about a lack of government support (which is nothing new). According to a survey commissioned by the SMMT, 44% of consumers don’t think they will be ‘ready’ to buy an electric car by 2035 and 24% ‘can’t ever see themselves owning one’.

As we reported yesterday, online sales platforms have also reporting waning interest in electric cars. However, it must be remembered that the coronavirus pandemic is clouding almost every aspect of society and the economy at the moment, so we could see opinions shift rapidly depending on wider economic issues.

Good month, bad month

August and February can be quite volatile in registration swings because overall numbers are relatively small, and this year was no different.

Compared to last August, it was a good month for Abarth, BMW, Dacia, Fiat, Hyundai, Kia, Land Rover, MG, Nissan, Porsche, Renault, Skoda and Volvo. All of these brands performed at least 10% better than the overall market.

On the other hand, it wasn’t as much fun for Alfa Romeo, Alpine, Audi, Bentley, DS Automobiles, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, SEAT, Smart, SsangYong, Subaru, Suzuki and Volkswagen, who all performed at least 10% worse than the overall market (and in some cases, significantly worse).

Fiesta back on top as Ford dominates the top ten

It’s hard to believe, but the Ford Fiesta‘s return to the top of the sales charts was its first month at the top since back in January – remember, when everyone’s biggest concern was Brexit and no-one really knew anything about a coronavirus?

It was a good month for Ford’s most popular models, as the Focus took third sport, just ahead of the Puma small SUV, while the new Kuga mid-sized SUV finished ninth.

The Volkswagen Golf edged out the Focus to take second place, while after a strong run over the last six months or so, the Vauxhall Corsa slipped back to fifth.

The rest of the top ten was nothing too surprising, although the Kia Niro popped up in tenth place, making its first appearance in the best-sellers list. As usual, we’ll have a full analysis of the top ten in the next few days.

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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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