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Turbulent year for new car sales ends on a low note

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New car registrations were down over 5% in December as poor fleet sales dragged figures down the overall market, bringing a difficult year to a close.

Private sales were down by less than 4% in December, which equates to fewer than 2,000 vehicles, over the same month the previous year. Given the reports of poor Christmas trading all across the retail sector, this is probably not a bad result and is broadly in line with recent months.

As we regularly point out (and as most media completely ignore), 90% of all private new cars are bought on dealer finance agreements that essentially require the customer to change their car at the end of the term, which all but guarantees a supply of repeat customers for the car industry.


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The 8% fall in fleet registrations is a more worrying sign, with the expectation that businesses are freezing new contracts and purchases in the face of political uncertainty over Brexit. This will almost certainly continue over the first half of 2019 as well, regardless of what sort of Brexit we get (or don’t get, as the case may be…).

December 2018 new car sales

Diesel continues to fall, electric cars not plugging the gap

Diesel sales slid back under 30% market share as the year drew to a close, a couple of percentage points below the full-year average of just under 32%. Whether this becomes the new normal or diesel falls further in 2019 remains to be seen.

Sales of alternatively-fueled vehicles have not exactly been sparkling for the last few months, and this continued in December. Yes, numbers are up compared to last year, but nowhere near enough to lead us all to a greener future.

This is largely because new emissions rules that came into effect in September have severely restricted availability of several of the top-selling plug-in hybrid models. This is not expected to be resolved until about the middle of 2019.

Small cars and family hatchbacks dominate the top ten

The top eight cars in the best-sellers list were all hatchbacks in December, quite probably a reflection on the greater drop in fleet registrations compared to private sales.

December 2018 best-selling cars

The perennially market-leading Ford Fiesta was followed by the Volkswagen Polo and Mini hatch, ahead of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, Vauxhall Corsa, Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra. Two SUVs rounded out the top ten, being the Ford Kuga and Nissan Qashqai.

In terms of full-year sales, December’s results didn’t change very much. The Polo’s strong month mean that it jumped the Mini for sixth place, but that was it.

We will have a detailed analysis of the overall 2018 results later this week, so check back to The Car Expert soon.

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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.