New car registrations showed a small increase in September, according to the industry results published today, with the Vauxhall Corsa dethroning the Ford Fiesta from its long reign at the top of the charts.
Private new car sales were almost unchanged from the same month last year (an insignificant 0.1% increase), with the overall growth being driven by fleet increases of nearly 9% according to the data provided by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
The caveat with getting too excited or disappointed with the results is that last year’s September results were highly distorted by changes to emissions legislation, which caught out several big brands and left them with very few cars to sell, but benefited other brands who had sorted themselves out in advance of the changes. Some of this year’s results are therefore corrections of unusual results last year.
September is also a big month for private new car buyers, who are attracted to the shiny new number plates, which significantly alters the make-up of the overall results.
Private buyers tend to buy fewer diesels, more EVs and hybrids, and more small and/or aspirational cars than hard-nosed fleet buyers, who are driven by the overall bottom line.
Diesel numbers not as bad as they look
It was another yet poor month for diesel-powered cars, but the reality was not quite as bad as the SMMT tries to make it look to suit its political agenda.
For the last few months, the SMMT has separated mild hybrids from normal petrol and diesel model, which has distorted the results. This is pretty dubious to start with, since mild hybrids are always powered by petrol or diesel and not by electricity alone, but it also distorts the overall diesel numbers by a greater proportion than other types of power source.
So rather than diesel cars showing a market share of 22.6%, it should really be considered to be 24.6% – still not great but much closer to what’s been happening for the rest of this year.
Being a big private sales month, the percentage of diesel sales is always lower in September than most months anyway, so declining consumer appetite for diesel cars is inevitably going to mean poorer results. The flip side of that is that the sales of electric and hybrid cars get a boost.
Fiesta toppled from throne as Corsa surges to the top
It’s been about two years since the top spot in the Top Ten was held by anything other than the Ford Fiesta, but that run has now come to an end. Mind you, the Fiesta has only slipped to second, and was only pipped by about 700 units, so it’s not exactly a crisis for Ford.
In the meantime, the departing Vauxhall Corsa has scored what will almost certainly be a final glory before its replacement model arrives in early 2020. New registration months are always strong for the Corsa, and Vauxhall has done well to topple its old rival in September.
As expected, the Tesla Model 3 – last month’s sales sensation – has fallen straight back out of the Top Ten. Looking at the overall results (Tesla does not declare its registration numbers to the SMMT), the Model 3 seems to have had another good month with similar sales to August. But August is a tiny month for the new car market and September is one of the largest, so everyone else had far more sales than August.
As always, we’ll look in more detail at the Top Ten in the next few days.
Good month, bad month
As always, there are winners and losers in the new car market. Comparing direct results to last year is difficult this month, as fuel economy and emissions legislation introduced last year significantly affected many brand results (in both good and bad ways). Therefore some of the names below are simply correcting big swings from last September’s results – particularly the Volkswagen Group brands, who were probably the hardest hit this time last year.
It was good news for Alpine, Bentley, Dacia, DS Automobiles, Lexus, Mazda, MG, Mini, Porsche, Renault, SEAT, Skoda, Suzuki and Volkswagen (and presumably Tesla), who all recorded sales increases of at least 10% year-on-year for September.
Meanwhile, it was a disappointing September for Abarth, Citroën, Fiat, Honda, Hyundai, Infiniti, Jaguar, Jeep, Maserati, Smart, SsangYong and Subaru, whose numbers fell by more than 10% compared to the same month last year.