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Sliding new car market shows no sign of slowing

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The UK new car market slid by 6.3% in January, as leading industry figures admitted that the latest figures are worrying.

A total of 163,615 new cars were registered in the month, according to figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders. Demand fell across the board, the business, private and fleet segments down 29.7%, 9.5% and 1.8% respectively.

Commenting on the figures, which follow a 6% drop in the market throughout 2017, SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said that evidence indicates consumers and businesses are not switching into alternative-technology cars, but instead keeping their older cars running, which he describes as a concern both for the car industry and the environment.

“Given fleet renewal is the fastest way to improve air quality and reduce CO2, we need government policy to encourage take-up of the latest advanced low-emission diesels as, for many drivers, they remain the right choice economically and environmentally,” Hawes added.

UK new car registrations, January 2018Diesel backlash deepens

The figures revealed a continuing switch away from diesel cars, down more than 25% in January. Diesel market share, which until recently was close to half the market, has now slumped to less than 36%, the SMMT again blaming this decline on confusion over government policy causing buyers to hesitate over buying diesels.

Registrations of petrol cars rose 8.5% as what buyers were in the market shunned diesels. This switch was most clearly seen in the alternative-fuel sector, hybrid and electric registrations jumping almost 24%. However at 9,020 vehicles, the sector still represents a mere 5.5% of the overall market.

Hawes added that diesel cars and engines are highly important to the UK economy. Last year, more than two in five of the cars leaving British production lines were diesels, while manufacturers also produced more than 1 million engines – directly supporting some 3,350 jobs and, combined with the UK’s petrol engine output, delivering some £8.5 billion to the economy.

The latest figures also confirm the increasing demand for SUVs – the only sector to rise in the month. SUV registrations were up 6.6% and now account for a record fifth (20.2%) of all new car sales.

Britain’s most popular car remains the Ford Fiesta, with 8,335 registrations in January. However increasingly establishing itself in second place is the Volkswagen Golf – 4,310 examples were registered in January, pushing the Ford Focus down to third with 4,105 registrations. The Vauxhall Corsa, formerly a consistent top three car in the market, slumped to eight place with 2,587 registered in the month. This figure is significantly behind the fifth-placed Vauxhall Mokka X with 3,7657 registrations, clearly demonstrating the increasing switch to SUVs.

Volkswagen Golf The Car Expert
The Volkswagen Golf has climbed the sales charts into second place behind Ford’s Fiesta.

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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.