Diesel loses out again, as UK new car registrations continue to fall

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Latest Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) figures show the state of the UK new car market has further declined by 4.6% in May, with 183,724 units registered.

Registrations by private consumers, fleets and business buyers declined by -5.0%, -3.0% and -29.0% respectively

Registrations by private consumers, fleets and business buyers declined by -5.0%, -3.0% and -29.0% respectively

The SMMT said the drop reflects continued uncertainty over diesel and Clean Air Zones, as well as the removal of incentives for plug-in hybrid vehicles. Meanwhile, the underlying economic and political instability continues to affect consumer and business confidence.

Declines were recorded across all sales types in the month, with registrations by private consumers, fleets and business buyers declining by -5.0%, -3.0% and -29.0% respectively. Most vehicle segments experienced a fall in demand, however, executive and dual purpose vehicles bucked the trend, with registrations growing 9.1% and 16.0%.

And, although demand for superminis and small family cars fell, these types of vehicle remained the most popular with a combined 56.3% of the market.

Modest growth in registrations of petrol (1.0%) and alternatively fuelled vehicles (11.7%) was not enough to offset the significant decline in demand for diesels, which fell for the 26th consecutive month.

Ongoing anti-diesel sentiment and the forthcoming introduction of Low-Emission Zones continues to affect buyer confidence, despite the latest generation of diesels being rated as cleaner than before and not facing charges or restrictions anywhere in the UK.

Meanwhile, petrol electric hybrids experienced increased demand, up 34.6% to 7,785 units. Battery electric cars also recorded a significant rise of 81.1% yet this segment still only represents 0.6% of the overall market. However, following recent trends, plug-in hybrids experienced another substantial decline, down -40.6% in May and -25.1% year-to-date. This compares with a 36.2% increase in the first five months of 2018 and is further evidence of the removal of the purchase incentive for PHEVs. Plug-in hybrid sales declines can also be attributed to a lack of availability, with many models not being available for sale or taken off the market temporarily.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said, “Confusing policy messages and changes to incentives continue to affect consumer and business confidence, causing drivers to keep hold of their older, more polluting vehicles for longer. New cars are safer, cleaner and more advanced than ever and, with sophisticated safety, efficiency and comfort features as well as a host of attractive deals on offer, there has never been a better time to invest in a new car.”

James Fairclough, CEO of AA Cars, commented, “The freefall in diesel car sales continues apace with May recording an 18.3% decline in diesel sales, as many drivers watch the success of London’s ULEZ and wonder if they might soon see a similar scheme where they live.

“Our own figures support this downward spiral in diesel sales in the used car market, as searches for diesel cars on the AA Cars site have decreased from 62% to 31% in the last 3 years.”

Alex Buttle, director of car selling comparison website Motorway.co.uk, said, “Diesel’s collapse is stark. Two years ago, sales stood at 44% of total sales. Today they account for just over a quarter.

“AFV numbers are improving nicely, but considering this is where the future of the UK car industry is focussed, small swings don’t feel good enough.”

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Jonathan Musk

Jonathan turned to motoring journalism in 2013 having founded, edited and produced Autovolt - one of the UK's leading electric car publications. He has also written and produced books on both Ferrari and Hispano-Suiza, while working as an international graphic designer for the past 15 years. As the automotive industry moves towards electrification, Jonathan brings a near-unrivalled knowledge of EVs and hybrids to Fleet World Group.