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‘No confidence’ as UK car sales slump again

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UK car sales plummeted again in October, as industry figures blamed the slide on collapsing consumer confidence and an over-hyped campaign against diesel.

New figures issued by the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT) show registrations of new cars slumped by more than 12% to 158,192 units, the first double-digit decline since the recession years. Year to date the market is down 4.6%.

For diesel the fall was even more marked, the 62,349 cars registered down 30%, or almost a third, on the same month in 2016. Diesel’s share of the market, that was almost half in October 2016, has now slipped to less than 40%.

New car registrations, October 2017
The fall of diesel shows no signs of slowing

Speaking to The Car Expert before the figures were released, Hyundai UK CEO Tony Whitehorn pinned blame for the slump on consumer confidence, less attractive exchange rates for foreign manufacturers and a campaign against diesel.

“Consumer confidence is low and won’t be helped by the increase this week in interest rates, that will hurt even more,” Whitehorn said. “(And) with the change in exchange rates many manufacturers are looking at the UK and saying this is no longer treasure island – we’re not going to invest quite so much. A number of manufacturers are tens of thousands of units down year on year.”

According to the SMMT figures, Hyundai registrations slipped by 0.5% in October but year-to-date the brand is up more than 2% in a market down 4.6%.

‘Tragic’ diesel campaign

Whitehorn dubbed as “tragic” the negative publicity applied to diesel cars. “I think it’s been hyped – diesel and petrol particulates, NOx, NO and CO are pretty similar nowadays with Euro-6 cars but there’s a consumer momentum,” he said.

Commenting on the figures, SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes urged the Government to reassure customers over diesel cars. “Declining business and consumer confidence is undoubtedly affecting demand in the new car market but this is being compounded by confusion over government policy on diesel,” he said.

“Consumers need urgent reassurance that the latest, low emission diesel cars on sale will not face any bans, charges or other restrictions, anywhere in the UK – we urge the Government to use the forthcoming Autumn Budget to restore stability to the market, encouraging the purchase of the latest-low emission vehicles as fleet renewal is the fastest and most effective way of addressing air quality concerns,” he added.

However, others are urging further take-up of alternatively-fuelled vehicles, which include electric and plug-in hybrid cars. Registrations of such vehicles grew by 37% in October to 8,244, with their market share continuing to hover just above 5% for the fourth month in a row.

Year-to-date more than 102,000 AFVs have been registered in the UK, 4.6% of the market compared to 3.3% in 2016.

Hyundai dealer The Car Expert
Hyundai outlets including this one in Bluewater shopping centre, are among the few dealers suffering less in the current market.

 

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Andrew Charman
Andrew Charman
Andrew is a road test editor for The Car Expert. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and has been testing and writing about new cars for more than 20 years. Today he is well known to senior personnel at the major car manufacturers and attends many new model launches each year.