The crazy year of new car registrations in 2021 continued in September, with overall numbers at their lowest point for nearly 25 years but very strong results for electric cars.
September is one of the car industry’s two biggest months of the year, along with March, thanks to the UK’s peculiar system of bi-annual number plate changes. But this year, when the industry really needed a good result after nearly two years of Covid problems, it was all a bit of a disaster.
Data published this morning by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) shows that private new car sales were down 25% in September compared to the same month last year. Fleet registrations were down a far more substantial 43%, leaving the overall market more than 34% down compared to last year.
As has been the case for months now, the biggest problem was supply. Manufacturers have had all sorts of trouble building cars due to an ongoing shortage of semiconductor chips, which are required for almost every key component of modern cars. The month’s registrations results are effectively a reflection of which car companies had enough chips and which didn’t.
Record-breaking month for electric cars
If you’re a regular reader of our monthly new car registration report, you won’t be surprised to hear that electric cars had yet another record-breaking month. What is surprising is how strong a month September was for EV sales – likely to be a combination of ever-increasing demand and fewer supply problems than for conventional fossil-fuel cars.
EVs took a record 15% of market share in September, which translates to nearly 33,000 new cars. That’s a 49% increase on the same month last year, in an overall market that was down 34%.
Plug-in hybrids also had a good month, up more than 11%, while regular hybrids still outperformed the overall market, down 5% but still a long way ahead of the overall market.
Also unsurprisingly, it was yet another worst month ever for diesel, only just scraping together a 10% share of the market. With demand at an all-time low, many manufacturers have slowed or halted diesel car production in order to use their supplies of precious semiconductors for more popular (and more profitable) models.
Good month, bad month, ugly month
For thousands of car dealerships, September was a bad month. A huge amount of energy and effort goes into maximising new car sales in March and September, so a 34% fall in registrations means that a lot of dealerships underachieved against their targets. The good news is that their profit margins for cars they did sell should have been better, as there’s no need to discount your cars when you don’t have enough to go aroud anyway.
For manufacturers, the 2021 rollercoaster ride continues. Toyota topped the charts in September, edging out Kia, with Volkswagen in third place. This largely reflects those brands having maintained their production levels as much as possible by having an adequate supply of semiconductor chips, although all have warned that they, like most other companies, will run out and have to reduce output levels soon.
September was a disaster for Ford, with registrations down 62% (against a market drop of 34%) leading to the Blue Oval falling to seventh place in the marketplace behind Toyota, Kia, Volkswagen, BMW, Audi and Hyundai. Mercedes-Benz also had a terrible month, down 63%
Overall, it was a good month for Alfa Romeo, Alpine, Citroën, DS Automobiles, Fiat, Honda, Hyundai, Jeep, Kia, Lexus, Maserati, MG, Polestar, SsangYong, Subaru and Toyota. All of these brands outperformed the overall market by at least 10%. Tesla will be in this group as well, but the company does not play along with the SMMT so its numbers don’t officially exist…
Meanwhile, things were miserable to either a greater or lesser degree for Abarth, Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Mini, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Renault, Skoda, Smart, Vauxhall and Volvo – all of whom were at least 10% behind the overall market results.
Mitsubishi sales have almost completely dried up as the car manufacturer completes its exit from Europe, while Renault sales were still poor (down 49%) but much better than the last couple of months.
Tesla Model 3 charges back to top spot
September was probably the strongest month yet for Tesla, as the super-successful Model 3 comfortably topped the sales charts. It’s certainly not the first time that we’ve seen the Tesla Model 3 atop the charts, but to do so in the month of September is a significant achievement. Or, to put it another way, Tesla sold roughly the same number of Model 3s as Jaguar and Land Rover’s entire combined product range…
Meanwhile, September 2021 could also be remembered as the first month in anyone’s memory that Ford didn’t have a single model in the UK top ten. The Fiesta, of course, has been the country’s top-selling car every year for more than decade – a crown that it now seems almost certain to lose this year.
Toyota and Kia both had two cars in the top ten, as did Volkswagen (although that’s certainly not unusual), while the Mercedes-Benz A-Class was the other big name to disappear from the charts in September.
We’ll have our usual full round-up of the top ten in coming days.