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2019 new car registrations hit six-year low despite rising AFV demand

Rising fleet and alternatively fuelled vehicle (AFV) demand failed to offset a wider downturn in the new car market – bringing registrations to their lowest level in six years.

2019 registrations hit a six-year low

The figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show a total of 2,311,140 cars were registered last year, down 2.4% as a result of weak business and consumer confidence, general political and economic instability and confusion over clean air zones.

Fleet registrations rose 0.8% to 1,232,447, giving the sector a 53.3% market share for the year. In contrast, business registrations to sub-25 fleets slumped 34.4% to 60,435 units. Private demand also fell, albeit by a more moderate 3.2%, bringing its total to 1,018,258 units.

However, December registrations saw a more positive turn of events, with overall demand up 3.4%, on the back of rising fleet and private registrations (up 7.3% and 0.1% respectively) while the small volume business sector fell 20.5%.

2019 also brought positive news when it came to combined alternatively fuelled vehicle (AFV) registrations, which took a record 7.4% market share. Hybrids remained the biggest seller, with registrations increasing +17.1% to 97,850 units. Notably, battery electric vehicle (BEV) registrations experienced the biggest percentage growth, rising +144.0% to 37,850 units and overtaking plug-in hybrids for the first time, with the latter falling 17.9% in 2019; the result of the October 2018 removal of the Plug-in Car Grant for PHEVs.

However, the SMMT noted that BEV’s 1.6% market share still falls far short of the 50-70% share envisaged by the Government in the next decade.

In contrast, diesel registrations fell for the 33rd month running with a 21.8% decline while petrol registrations were up +2.2%.

The SMMT also published data on new car fleet average CO2, which rose by +2.7% to 127.9g/km. While it’s the third year that new car average CO2 has risen, this was said to be primarily due to the September 2018 introduction of the more stringent WLTP test, as well as the shift to SUVs and the decline in diesel that were responsible for the rises in previous years.

Commenting on the overall decline in new car registrations, Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “A stalling market will hinder 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.

“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.”

Justin Benson, head of automotive at KPMG in the UK, added: “Over the next couple of months we will see if consumer confidence improves, with increased certainty around the economy. I believe that 2020 will also be the year the industry sees sales of electric vehicles double again. Although still a low base, new emissions regulations and increased consumer awareness around climate change will drive continued growth in battery electric vehicles.”

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for nearly 20 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day.