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Poor private new car sales, great fleet sales in November

Consumer sales floundering but fleet numbers back to pre-pandemic levels

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November’s new car registration results saw an acceleration of a growing trend for 2023 – private sales were down while fleet registrations enjoyed yet another strong month.

Data published this morning by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reported that the overall new car market grew by 9.5% compared to the same month last year. However, it’s a story of very different results for consumer and fleet markets – private new car registrations were down 6%, while fleet registrations were up 39%.

The fleet results were the best for November registrations since 2016, which pulled the overall market up well beyond what we would expect. November generally isn’t a big month for the car industry, caught between the new-registration-plate month of September and the end-of-year promotions (if any) of December, so we could see quite different results next month. But the data does reflect the trend we’ve seen developing all year – generally poor private sales contrasting with strong growth in the fleet market.

New car registrations by buyer type – November

BuyerNovember 2023November 2022% changeMarket share 2023Market share 2022
Private60,50664,291-5.9%38.7%45.0%
Fleet93,04974,18525.4%59.4%51.9%
Business2,9704,413-32.7%1.9%3.1%
Total156,525142,8899.5%
Source: SMMT

Year to date

BuyerYTD 2023YTD 2022% changeMarket share 2023Market share 2022
Private773,807766,0961.0%43.9%51.6%
Fleet947,422681,13739.1%53.8%45.8%
Business40,73338,3686.2%2.3%2.6%
Total1,761,9621,485,60118.6%
Source: SMMT

What’s causing the private new car sales slump?

As has been widely reported in the media all year, interest rates have been rising to address persistently high levels of inflation. Cars are also getting more expensive, particularly as cheaper petrol models gradually disappear in favour of more expensive electric models.

Consumers continue to avoid electric cars, with only 23% of new EV sales going to private customers – compared to 39% of all vehicles. (Thanks, Rishi.)

Interestingly, some budget brands suffered the most in terms of falling sales, relative to more premium brands that you’d imagine would be finding life difficult with household budget squeezes. Dacia and Fiat were both well off the pace in November, although MG continues to go from strength to strength.

Looking at the data for different car brands, there may be some strategic games being played as well. Tesla, for example, has chosen to register a lot of new cars in December over the last couple of years, and that may be the case again this year. The EV brand reported numbers that were well down on last November (about 1,500 cars this year vs. 6,000 last year), so it may be holding some back to boost December numbers.

Hybrids have a strong month, EVs falling behind

Plug-in hybrids had another strong month, as did regular hybrids (the ones you can’t plug in). However, fully electric models saw a significant decline in sales compared to the same month last year.

There are reasons for this. Tesla had a strong month last November while it was well down this year, selling less than 1,000 of its popular Model Y. Polestar also saw a significant sales drop, although it’s a much smaller brand in terms of volume. But the drop for these two EV-only brands more than accounts for the fall in EV sales compared to last November.

The growth in plug-in hybrid sales over the last few months is interesting, as this was a sector that has been struggling for the last couple of years. It’s partly a result of declining diesel SUV sales, where plug-in hybrids have emerged as the most eco-friendly option given the lack of all-electric large SUVs on the market. But it’s also partly from customers wanting to go electric but not prepared to jump all the way to an electric-only vehicle.

As usual, diesel cars had their worst month ever in terms of market share (probably; we’ve given up checking as the numbers are getting so low), while petrol cars increased their market share.

New car registrations by fuel type – November

FuelNovember 2023November 2022% changeMarket share 2023Market share 2022
Petrol*85,27575,51912.9%54.4%52.8%
Electric24,35929,372-17.1%15.6%20.6%
Hybrid20,52516,06627.8%13.1%11.2%
Plug-in hybrid15,87110,18655.8%10.1%7.1%
Diesel*10,49511,746-11.7%6.7%8.2%
Total156,525142,8899.5%

*includes mild hybrids
Source: SMMT

New car registrations by fuel type – Year to date

FuelYTD 2023YTD 2022% changeMarket share 2023Market share 2022
Petrol*990,606846,79017.0%56.3%57.0%
Electric286,846224,91927.5%16.3%15.1%
Hybrid222,655174,20527.8%12.6%11.7%
Diesel*132,706146,640-9.5%7.6%9.9%
Plug-in hybrid129,14993,04738.8%7.3%6.3%
Total1,761,9621,485,60118.6%

*includes mild hybrids
Source: SMMT

Good month, bad month

Although the overall market was up by almost 10% compared to last November, not everyone had a great month.

Things were positive for Alfa Romeo, Citroën, Cupra, Jaguar, Jeep, Land Rover, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz, MG, Peugeot, Renault, SEAT, Skoda, Smart, SsangYong, Suzuki and Vauxhall. All of these brands outperformed the market by at least 10% (so had growth of at least 19.5%).

Meanwhile, it wasn’t such good news for Abarth, Alpine, Bentley, Dacia, DS Automobiles, Fiat, Genesis, Honda, Kia, Mazda, Mini, Nissan, Polestar, Subaru, Tesla and Volkswagen. All of these brands underachieved against the overall market by at least 10% (so had sales drops of 0.5% or more compared to last November).

That means that the following brands were more or less where you’d expect them to be: Audi, BMW, Ford, Hyundai, Lexus, Porsche, Toyota and Volvo. They were all within 10% (positive or negative) of the overall market.

Volkswagen was the best-selling brand, as usual, ahead of BMW, Ford, Audi and Vauxhall. Peugeot had the most growth of all the major brands, selling nearly 3,500 more cars this November than last. Going in the other direction, Tesla had the largest fall, shifting nearly 4,500 fewer cars year-on-year – largely because it registered fewer than 1,000 Model Ys. However, Tesla numbers are never consistent so we can’t really judge month-by-month data. We can also expect the company to do much better in December.

November

RankBrandRegistrationsMarket share
1Volkswagen13,4338.6%
2BMW11,9897.7%
3Ford11,3497.3%
4Audi11,2057.2%
5Vauxhall9,2045.9%
6Toyota8,5505.5%
7Mercedes-Benz7,6884.9%
8Kia7,3964.7%
9Nissan7,1564.6%
10MG6,7854.3%

Source: SMMT

Year to date

RankBrandRegistrationsMarket share
1Volkswagen149,8248.5%
2Ford135,2437.7%
3Audi127,8717.3%
4Kia104,1805.9%
5Toyota102,1895.8%
6BMW101,3925.8%
7Vauxhall94,4235.4%
8Hyundai81,8784.7%
9Nissan81,7484.6%
10Mercedes-Benz80,4894.6%

Source: SMMT

Ford Puma prepares for its coronation

Barring any completely ridiculous scenarios, the Ford Puma will be the UK’s best-selling new car in 2023. After another top-scoring month in November and with only one month to go for the year, it now leads the sales race by nearly 7,500 units over the Nissan Qashqai.

Despite being ancient by new car standards, and facing replacement in the next couple of months, the Mini hatch had another strong month to finish fourth in November, which also helped it to jump the Nissan Juke for seventh place in year-to-date sales. The Hyundai Tucson also jumped the Tesla Model Y for fifth, but that could easily be reversed next month.

We’ll have our usual detailed look at the top ten shortly.

November

RankBrandRegistrations
1Ford Puma4,298
2Vauxhall Corsa4,185
3Nissan Qashqai4,116
4Mini hatch3,528
5Ford Kuga3,202
6Kia Sportage3,045
7Vauxhall Mokka2,917
8MG HS2,734
9Volkswagen Golf2,733
10Audi A32,726

Source: SMMT

Year to date

RankBrandRegistrations
1Ford Puma46,434
2Nissan Qashqai39,068
3Vauxhall Corsa37,826
4Kia Sportage34,620
5Hyundai Tucson32,301
6Tesla Model Y31,083
7Mini hatch29,777
8Nissan Juke29,272
9Vauxhall Mokka28,390
10Audi A328,178

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.