Private new car sales take a dive in January

Buyers abandon new car purchases as sales fall 14%

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Consumer new car purchases fell by just under 14% compared to the same month a year ago, according to data published this week.

Some 11,700 fewer cars new were registered in January than during the same month in 2019, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). The majority of this fall was due to a drop in private new car sales – down 14% – while fleet sales were down by just over 2%

With the frenzy of Brexit activity reaching a peak in January as the UK finally made good on its 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU, customers kept their wallets firmly in their pockets. The industry will now be nervously waiting to see if the market bounces back in February and the all-important registration month of March.

(SMMT) – which means any comments about how to spell ‘January’ should be directed their way…

Diesel sales plumb new depths, EVs keep improving

Sales of diesel cars* were down 27% year-on-year, falling below a market share of 20%. This suggests that fleet buyers are following consumers in abandoning diesel in ever-growing numbers. The SMMT press release still talks about “confusion” over diesel cars, but there appears to be no confusion at all from buyers at all – they very clearly don’t want diesel cars.

Alternatively-fuelled vehicles (electric cars, plug-in hybrids, regular hybrids) reached a record market share of almost 12% in January, up from less than 7% in the same month last year.


Transport Secretary Grant Shapps claimed the figures show Government investment is “powering the electric transition across the UK’s roads”, but the reality is probably somewhat different.

Sales for plug-in hybrids more than doubled from the artificially low numbers a year ago, when a number of plugin models had been temporarily withdrawn from sale due to WLTP compliance dramas. The number of pure electric cars leaving showrooms tripled compared with January 2019 – largely thanks to the new Tesla Model 3, which has been a strong seller since its launch last August.

Neither of these is directly connected to government actions, although ongoing investment in electric vehicle infrastructure will certainly encourage more car buyers to go electric.

*including diesel mild hybrids, which the SMMT has recently decided to report separately

Good times, bad times

While the overall market took a New Year’s tumble, some brands started off 2020 better than others.

Audi, Bentley, DS Automobiles, Jaguar, Jeep, Lexus, Lotus, MG, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Porsche all reported double-digit growth against a market that fell by 7% overall.

On the other hand, it wasn’t as much fun for several other brands. Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Alpine, Citroën, Dacia, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Maserati, Mazda, Mini, Renault, Smart, SsangYong, Subaru, Suzuki and Vauxhall all took a double-digit dive in January.

Ford starts the year on top

After taking a bit of a beating at the end of last year, the Ford Fiesta returned to the top of the sales charts in January. And right behind it was its bigger brother, the Ford Focus.


It was also a good month for the Nissan Qashqai and the outgoing Vauxhall Corsa, which outsold last month’s top dog, the Volkswagen Golf.

How will the top ten look by the end of the year? Stay tuned…

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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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