UK new car market hits six year low in 2019

by | Jan 8, 2020

As we come to the start of a new year it’s time to look back at the figures for 2019. Recent data, released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), has shown that 2.3 million new cars were registered in the UK last year, which is a 2.4% decrease on 2018’s figures.

This was actually the third successive year of decline, and was the lowest annual total we’ve seen since 2013, when 2.3 million cars were registered.

Mike Hawes, the SMMT chief executive, spoke out saying that last year was a ‘turbulent 12 months for the industry”. The SMMT put this down to weak business and consumer confidence, the overall political and economic instability across the country, and the public’s confusion over clean air zones.

Figures courtesy of the SMMT

Superminis and lower medium cars are still the most popular and, despite registering a fall in registrations, still take up a huge 57.1% share of the market.

It was, however, a good year for environmentally friendly vehicles. Alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs) went on to register a 20.6% increase in volumes, taking their market share up to 7.4%. Hybrid cars also now account for 4.2% of the market, with their volumes increasing by 17.1%.

It is disappointing to see that CO2 emissions continued to rise. It is crucial that motorists choose the car that best suits their driving habits. Due to the confusion surrounding emissions, many high mileage drivers have purchased petrol cars which emit more CO2 than their modern diesel equivalents.

– Sue Robinson – Director of the National Franchised Dealers Association

Zero emission electric vehicles (EV) also saw a rise in figures, with volumes increasing to 38,000 units, which is a 144% rise on the previous year. This increase also saw EV cars overtake plug in hybrid vehicles for the first time. Mike Hawes put this down to the removal of the Government grant from plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Petrol cars saw a slight growth in demand last year, with registrations increasing by 2.2%. However, diesel registrations fell by a huge 21.8%, marking 33 months of consecutive decline.

Figures courtesy of the SMMT.

The SMMT has blamed confusion over clean air zones, and continual “anti-diesel rhetoric” for this fall in demand. The organisation has stated that this is leading to drivers keeping their older, more polluting vehicles on the road for longer, which is slowing the progress towards environmental goals.

We urgently need more supportive policies: investment in infrastructure; broader measures to encourage uptake of the latest, low and zero emission cars; and long term purchase incentives to put the UK at the forefront of this technological shift.

– Mike Hawes – SMMT

Sue Robinson, the director of the National Franchised Dealers Association, spoke to AM Online about the year as a whole echoing the sentiments of Mike Hawes. Robinson said the poor figures were a result of “the continued, prolonged political uncertainty and a number of challenges affecting the automotive sector, namely supply constraints and confusion surrounding emissions.”

She added: “It is disappointing to see that CO2 emissions continued to rise. It is crucial that motorists choose the car that best suits their driving habits. Due to the confusion surrounding emissions, many high mileage drivers have purchased petrol cars which emit more CO2 than their modern diesel equivalents.”

The Ford Fiesta was the best selling new car in the UK in 2019.

Looking to this year, Mike Hawes said: “A stalling market will hinder the industry’s ability to meet stringent new CO2 targets and, importantly, undermine wider environmental goals.

“We urgently need more supportive policies: investment in infrastructure; broader measures to encourage uptake of the latest, low and zero emission cars; and long term purchase incentives to put the UK at the forefront of this technological shift.

“The industry is playing its part with a raft of exciting new models in 2020 and compelling offers but consumers will only respond if economic confidence is strong and the technology affordable.”