The UK new-car market declined 2.5% in the first three quarters of the year, according to figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), but September saw modest year-on-year growth due to a substantial 20.5% decline in September 2018, when new emissions regulations and lack of testing capacity across Europe affected supply.
However, the growth — representing some 4,421 units — was not enough to recover losses of over 87,000 in last year’s important ‘plate-change’ month, leaving the year-to-date market trailing some 49,000 units behind the first nine months of 2018.
It is also in stark contrast to other major European markets, which this September rallied in ‘double digit’ numbers; and while the same regulatory pressures have been experienced across the EU, the UK the market is being subdued by the added pressure of political and economic uncertainty, with weak confidence stopping consumers from committing to ‘big ticket’ purchases.
September’s volumes were driven by the fleet sector, which grew 8.6%. Private demand remained stable (up 0.1%), while business registrations declined by 44.8%.
Diesel registrations fell 20.3%, while petrol registrations experienced a moderate increase of 4.5%.
Battery electric cars (BEVs) saw the biggest percentage growth of all fuel types, up 236.4% to 5,414 units.
Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) also saw growth for the first time in six months — albeit on the back of a 22.3% decline in September 2018.
Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “September’s modest growth belies the on-going downward trend we’ve seen over the past 30 months.
“We expected to see a more significant increase in September, similar to those seen in France, Germany, Italy and Spain, given the negative effect WLTP had on all European markets last year.
“Instead, consumer confidence is being undermined by political and economic uncertainty.”
September also saw a decline in the new light commercial-vehicle (LCV) sector with a fall of 23.5%; the registration of 41,216 LCVs was down some 12,632 units on September 2018.
September’s losses follow a period of sustained growth, with LCV registrations rising in every month of 2019 to August, as buyers responded to a wide range of deals and a raft of new models.
The market was up 4.5% in the first nine months of 2019, with more than 286,000 new vans registered — most (62.2%) in the 2.5-3.5 tonnes bracket.