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Fleet market soars ahead of WLTP deadline

Fleet and total new car registrations saw bumper rises in August in advance of the 1 September switch to the new Worldwide harmonized Light Vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP) cycle.

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The fleet market rises 19.7% in the second smallest month of the year

Latest Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) figures show fleet registrations rose 19.7% last month to 50,157 while sub-25 ‘Business’ figures – which also include self-registrations – were up a massive 166.4% to 2,499 units. Private registrations were up 23.3% to 41,438 cars and the overall market rose 23.1% to 94,094.

The increases across the board bring an improvement in year-to-date figures with the overall new car market just down 4.4% on 2017 now and 4.7% for fleets.

The data also shows that demand for hybrid and plug-in cars surged 88.7% in August with a record one in 12 buyers going electric.

The figures come a week after Jato reported that the European new car market hit a nine-year high in August as well as July’s 2.6% rise in fleet registrations and 1.2% rise in the overall new car market, and add to the debate about whether such rises indicate an upwards trend or the result of rush to register cars under the previous NEDC emissions regulations before September.

Many in the industry think it’s the latter and there have been reports of significant discounts on new cars as DfT derogation rules mean carmakers can only sell up to 2,000 (or 10% of 2017’s sales volume) pre-1 June build vehicles after September. Meanwhile, for fleets the switch to NEDC Correlated CO2 figures under the new test cycle is bringing tax increases that has made it expedient to make the most of any true NEDC-rated vehicles that have still been on sale.

Commenting on the August figures, Sean Kemple, director of sales at Close Brothers Motor Finance, said: “This spike in car registrations is almost certainly a reaction to the incoming Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure, which shifts into gear during September. Manufacturers have offered a wealth of incentives to shift stock before the new rules come into play, with dealers and customers alike benefiting from the race to outrun the new regulation.”

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes added: “Given August is always a small month in new car registrations ahead of the important plate-change month of September, it would be wrong to view the market as booming. Indeed, this past month has seen some significant variances as regulatory changes have disrupted some supplies.”

The rush to register pre-WLTP figures in what’s normally the second ‘smallest’ month of the year has also led to debate on whether September and the new plate change will see the usual seasonal uplift, due to possible issues with both demand and shortages of NEDC Correlated cars.

Kemple said: “Moving into Q4, there will likely to be a time lag as manufacturers grapple with the new measures, potentially leading to a shortage of vehicles in the new car market.”

However, SMMT’s Mike Hawes said: “In the long term, however, the new emissions certification test will give consumers renewed confidence in the performance of all vehicles, helping them choose the latest, cleanest technology that best suits their driving needs, whether that be petrol, diesel, hybrid or plug-in.”

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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.