Private car buyers lift new car market in February

Great month for private new car sales, but it's only February...

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New car sales rose slightly in February, thanks to strong growth from private new car buyers, while fleet registrations slipped slightly according to the latest results published this morning by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

The overall market was up by 1.4%, or just under 1,200 cars, compared to the same month last year. Private new car sales were up by more than 4%, while fleet sales fell by just over 1%. In fact, private new car sales were better than February two years ago as well, and only just shy of 2016’s record level. So, good news.

However, February is the quietest month of the year for new car sales so there won’t be too many wild celebrations at the news. The real test of the market will come in the big consumer sales month of March. Just under 37,000 new cars were registered to private buyers in February, whereas March will see more than 200,000 consumers driving away in a new car.

Diesel sales remain at just under 30% of market share, which is stable and unlikely to recover until fleet registrations start to grow again, as there is still a strong company car demand for diesel cars.

The SMMT press release waxed lyrical about the performance of alternatively-fuelled vehicles, but the reality is that a market share of 5.5% is still well below both last month’s results and the average result for 2018 – even if it was an improvement on last February.

February 2019 new car sales

Plug-in hybrids coming unplugged?

Electric cars had a good month, doubling last February’s registrations. However, growth in plug-in hybrid vehicles has stalled in recent months. As always, the SMMT blames the government for this, specifically the reforms to the plug-in car grant that were introduced in October last year.

Curiously, the press release makes absolutely no mention whatsoever of the fact that many of the UK’s top-selling plug-in hybrid models were pulled from sale last August since they did not comply with new WLTP emissions rules. (#facepalm #fakenews)

But do spare a thought for the poor SMMT. With two months of positive consumer registration results, they can’t get on their favourite Brexit high horse and moan about how it’s driving consumers away from showrooms, so they have to try and blame the government for something.

Otherwise, people might come to the conclusion that the car industry might be somehow responsible for its own failings…

Ford reigns supreme in February

It was another one-two at the top of the table for Ford in February, with the Fiesta and Focus taking honours ahead of the Volkswagen Golf in third place. The Ford Kuga also bounced back from a disappointing January to finish seventh, while the EcoSport popped up in ninth place.

February 2019 best sellers

Volkswagen will be pleased with the Polo and Tiguan having good months, giving the emissions-cheating German brand three cars in the top ten. Sister brand Audi is slowly recovering from its late-2018 WLTP emissions disaster, with registrations down 17% on last year – a much better result than it has endured for the last six months.

Ford’s overall sales were down 14%, despite having four cars in the top ten. It was also a lousy month for Alfa Romeo, Abarth, DS Automobiles, Fiat, Honda, Hyundai, Infiniti, Maserati, McLaren, Porsche and Smart, who all suffered double-digit falls in February.

On the sunnier side of the street, MG continues its rapid growth with sales up 140% on last year. It was also a good month for Jaguar, Jeep, Lexus, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Renault, Subaru, Suzuki, Volkswagen and Volvo, who all achieved at least double-digit growth.

The real test for 2019 new car sales will come with March’s figures. Will we see buyers pulling back in the face of Brexit mayhem, or will they plunge in to beat any potential price rises that may result? Tune in next month to find out…

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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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