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Petrol-powered growth for new car sales in February

New car sales were up by a quarter in February, but most of this was for petrol cars in a worrying sign for EV adoption

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Private new car sales increased by 6% in February compared to the same month last year, according to industry data published this morning, with fleet registrations also performing strongly.

February is often an unreliable indicator of market trends, as it and August are the two smallest months of the year ahead of the new number plate boom months of March and September. March registrations are usually larger than January and February combined, so we’ll get a true indication of where the new car market sits in a month’s time.

Fleet sales powering market growth

The February data, published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), showed overall market growth of 26% compared to 2022 results. As in the last few months, this was largely off the back of growth in fleet purchasing, which increased by 46%.

However, it’s certainly positive that this month was the seventh in a row to show overall growth after the difficulties of the last three years. That bodes well for used car buyers over the next few months as an increasing number of ex-fleet cars filter through into the used car market.

New car registrations by buyer type

BuyerFeb 2023Feb 2022% changeMarket share 2023Market share 2022
Source: SMMT

Buyers sticking with petrol power

In volume terms, the largest growth was in petrol cars (including mild hybrid petrol cars), which increased by more than 11,000 units over the same month last year. That means that petrol’s share of the new car market improved from 53% last February to 57% this year. Hybrids also performed well, up 40% year-on-year. That’s a larger growth in percentage terms but on a much smaller volume – up about 3,000 units.

Electric cars were underwhelming, up by 18% against an overall market growth of 26%, meaning that in terms of market share they actually went backwards. Plug-in hybrids sales continue to tank, down to just 6% of the market. We regularly make the point that it’s difficult to judge EV results on a month-by-month basis because Tesla’s boom/bust approach to car sales skews things massively, but there’s certainly enough information to suggest that action is needed.

Given the imperative for all new cars to be either electric or plug-in hybrid in less than seven years, the lack of growth for EVs and plug-in hybrids is problematic. Tesla is likely to turn in another strong month in March, which will ‘balance the books’ to a degree, but the rest of the car industry needs to see stronger EV sales in very short order.

Finally, diesel sales also fell in terms of both overall volume and market share, which should be no surprise to anyone. If no-one bought big SUVs, new diesel sales would be almost non-existent by now.

New car sales by fuel type

FuelFeb 2023Feb 2022% changeMarket share 2023Market share 2022
Plug-in hybrid4,7234,6771.0%6.3%7.9%
*includes mild hybrids
Source: SMMT

Good month, bad month

Regardless of whether the overall market moves up or down, there are always individual car brands that do better or worse than average. This month, the overall market was up by 26% year-on-year.

It was a good month for Alpine, Audi, Cupra, Dacia, DS Automobiles, Ford, Genesis, Hyundai, Jeep, Land Rover, Nissan, Polestar, Porsche, Renault, SEAT, Skoda, SsangYong and Volkswagen. All of these brands exceeded the overall market performance by at least 10% – meaning their sales were up by at least 36% year-on-year.

Meanwhile, it wasn’t so exciting for AbarthBentley, BMW, Citroën, Honda, Jaguar, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, MG, Mini, Peugeot, Smart, Toyota and Tesla. All of these brands underachieved against the overall market by at least 10% – meaning growth of less than 16% (and in some cases, sharp declines in sales).

That means that brands like Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lexus, Maserati, Subaru, Suzuki, Vauxhall and Volvo were all – more or less – in a similar position to last year in the overall marketplace.

Ford was the biggest-selling brand in February, pipping Volkswagen by only 35 units to take top spot. Vauxhall had a strong month to finish third (presumably off the back of a 0% finance offer across its entire range), ahead of Audi and Hyundai.

As mentioned, no-one’s likely to be partying hard or slitting their wrists based on February’s results. March will be far more important, so we’ll be analysing next month’s data very closely.

RankBrandRegistrationsMarket share
Source: SMMT
Year to date
RankBrandRegistrationsMarket share
Source: SMMT

Vauxhall Corsa back on top

It was a return to the top of the sales charts for the first time in months for the Vauxhall Corsa, which comfortably led the way in February ahead of its SUV stablemate, the Vauxhall Mokka. The Ford Puma edged out the Nissan Juke for third place in a strong month for small SUVs.

What was most interesting was the absence of the Nissan Qashqai – 2022’s best-selling new car – from the top ten chart in February. We suspect that this is rather tactical, and fully expect the Qashqai to magically reappear at or near the top of the list in March. MG, which topped the charts last month and had two cars in the top ten, was also missing this month, but that’s less surprising given that it doesn’t normally feature anyway.

As in January, there were only two superminis in the top ten (Vauxhall Corsa and Ford Fiesta), with the other eight vehicles being crossovers/SUVs.

We’ll update our round-up of the country’s best-selling cars in the next day or two.

1Vauxhall Corsa2,818
2Vauxhall Mokka1,805
3Ford Puma1,590
4Nissan Juke1,561
5Hyundai Tucson1,528
6Tesla Model Y1,482
7Volkswagen T-Roc1,360
8Ford Fiesta1,303
9Kia Sportage1,262
10Toyota C-HR1,244
Source: SMMT
Year to date
1Vauxhall Corsa5,243
2Volkswagen T-Roc4,616
3Nissan Qashqai4,318
4MG HS4,042
5Ford Puma3,906
6Hyundai Tucson3,787
7Kia Niro3,723
8Kia Sportage3,671
9Vauxhall Mokka3,479
10Ford Fiesta3,345
Source: SMMT

The latest from The Car Expert

Stuart Masson
Stuart Massonhttps://www.thecarexpert.co.uk/
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.