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Worst August in a decade for private new car sales

August sees sharp downturn in private new car sales, dropping 8% year-on-year, which was the worst performance since the 2012 London Olympics

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August saw a sharp downturn in private new car sales, which dropped 8% compared to the same month last year, in what will be a concerning result for the car industry.

Data published this morning by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) shows that overall new car registrations were up 24% year-on-year in August, but that was driven by a 58% growth in fleet registrations. This was the 12th consecutive month of growth for fleets, which is a reflection of the massive falls in fleet numbers from the previous 12 months.

Are poor private sales a blip or a warning?

August is a notoriously difficult month for making predictions, as it’s the second-smallest month of the year (just above February). Both months lead into new number plate months in March and September, which are the two biggest months of the year. As such, relatively small swings in sales up or down can distort the data by a large degree.

However, there’s no arguing the fact that August 2023 was the slowest August for private new car sales since 2012 – when most of the country was more interested in watching the London 2012 Olympic Games than running out to buy a new car.

With ever-increasing interest rates and new car prices following a similar trajectory, it’s entirely reasonable to expect that consumers to be reining in their new car spending. All year, we’ve seen private new car sales up or down by a couple of percentage points, but an 8% drop is more significant. But we’ll have to wait and see what happens in September for a better assessment. Private sales in March, the other headline month of the year, were underwhelming and we’re not expecting anything massive for September or the rest of this year.

August

BuyerAugust 2023August 2022% changeMarket share 2023Market share 2022
Private32,07134,891-8.1%37.4%50.7%
Fleet51,95132,79458.4%60.7%47.6%
Business1,6351,17339.4%1.9%1.7%
Total84,65768,85824.4%
Source: SMMT

Year to date

BuyerYTD 2023YTD 2022% changeMarket share 2023Market share 2022
Private527,442522,8400.9%44.7%53.2%
Fleet623,637437,28042.6%52.9%44.5%
Business28,21922,97922.8%2.4%2.3%
Total1,179,298983,09920.0%
Source: SMMT

Electric car sales improving, although not definitive

It looked to be a good month for electric car sales, which took 20% of the market in August. That’s up on the year-to-date average of 16%, but again it’s difficult to judge anything on August data alone – especially for EVs. Tesla had two cars in the top ten this month, and the American brand accounted for almost half of the EV growth in August.

Plug-in hybrids continue their improved form from the last couple of months, although regular hybrids slipped back a bit. Diesel sales endured yet another ‘worst month ever’, with market share falling to a new low of 6.5%. And obviously, everything else was petrol as usual.

New car registrations by fuel type – August

FuelAugust 2023August 2022% changeMarket share 2023Market share 2022
Petrol*47,68839,97919.3%55.7%58.0%
Electric17,24310,00672.3%20.1%14.5%
Hybrid8,5518,0076.8%10.0%11.6%
Plug-in hybrid6,6013,88470.0%7.7%5.6%
Diesel*5,5746,982-20.1%6.5%10.1%
Total85,65768,85828.3%

*includes mild hybrids
Source: SMMT

New car registrations by fuel type – Year to date

FuelYTD 2023YTD 2022% changeMarket share 2023Market share 2022
Petrol*669,034566,41218.1%56.7%57.6%
Electric193,221137,49840.5%16.4%14.0%
Hybrid144,542113,33927.5%12.3%11.5%
Diesel*92,043104,170-11.6%7.8%10.6%
Plug-in hybrid80,45861,68030.4%6.8%6.3%
Total1,179,298983,09920.0%

*includes mild hybrids
Source: SMMT

Good month, bad month

There’s always quite a lot of fluctuation in August, as car manufacturers and dealerships either hold cars back for September or push to get them out the door beforehand. But in an overall market that was up 24% compared to the same month last year, there were plenty of winners and losers across the board.

It was a strong month for Abarth, Alpine, Cupra, Fiat, Lexus, Maserati, MG, Peugeot, Polestar, Porsche, Renault, SEAT, Skoda, Subaru, Suzuki, Tesla, and Volvo – all of these brands outperformed the overall market by at least 10% (so saw sales up by at least 34% on August last year).

Things weren’t so rosy for Bentley, BMW, Citroën, Dacia, DS Automobiles, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Jeep, Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mini, Nissan, Smart, SsangYong, and Toyota – all of these brands underperformed against the overall market by at least 10% (so saw registrations up by less than 14%, and in some cases signifcantly down on last year).

That means that the following brands were more or less where you’d expect them to be in terms of registrations: Alfa Romeo, Audi, Ford, Genesis, Kia, Vauxhall and Volkswagen.

Volkswagen was the biggest-selling brand in August ahead of Ford and Audi, which was the same as last month. Vauxhall was fourth, replacing Kia, while BMW was again fifth.

All eyes will now be on the crucial September results…

August

RankBrandRegistrationsMarket share
1Volkswagen8,3359.7%
2Ford7,4498.7%
3Audi6,0847.1%
4Vauxhall5,5626.5%
5BMW4,7505.6%
6Kia4,6635.4%
7Toyota4,0994.8%
8Hyundai4,0824.8%
9Tesla4,0214.8%
10Skoda3,7374.4%

Source: SMMT

Year to date

RankBrandRegistrationsMarket share
1Volkswagen101,0208.6%
2Ford91,1257.7%
3Audi85,2857.2%
4Kia73,0476.2%
5Toyota68,6905.8%
6BMW65,6935.6%
7Vauxhall62,5195.3%
8Hyundai56,9124.8%
9Nissan53,7624.6%
10Mercedes-Benz52,4154.4%

Source: SMMT

Nissan goes missin’ from the top ten

The Ford Puma was again the best-selling car in August, further extending its lead in the 2023 sales race. Tesla had a strong month, with both of its cars in the top ten, while Ford also had the Kuga and outgoing Fiesta in the best-sellers list as well.

Notably missing from the top ten was Nissan, with neither the Qashqai nor the Juke making an appearance in August. This means that the Qashqai has now slipped to fourth in the year-to-date sales race, overtaken by the Tesla Model Y. However, it may be worth pointing out that the same thing happened last year, with the Qashqai nowhere to be seen in August then topping the charts with a massive month in September. Is Nissan trying to pull the same trick again this year?

The Ford Fiesta made what could well be its final appearance in the top ten in August, unless Ford is holding a lot of stock back for September. Now that the Fiesta is out of production, it’s unlikely to reappear.

We’ll have our usual full analysis of the top ten shortly.

August

RankBrandRegistrations
1Ford Puma2,336
2Tesla Model Y2,313
3Vauxhall Corsa1,941
4Ford Kuga1,779
5Vauxhall Mokka1,763
6Tesla Model 31,698
7Hyundai Tucson1,597
8Volkswagen T-Roc1,572
9Ford Fiesta1,538
10Audi A31,362

Source: SMMT

Year to date

RankBrandRegistrations
1Ford Puma29,225
2Vauxhall Corsa25,692
3Tesla Model Y24,148
4Nissan Qashqai24,017
5Hyundai Tucson22,883
6Kia Sportage22,414
7Nissan Juke21,136
8Vauxhall Mokka19,761
9Ford Fiesta19,018
10Mini hatch18,748

Source: SMMT

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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.