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Fleet sales creep up in June but business confidence still low

New car registration figures have been published for June, showing much-expected major declines in sales to fleet and private buyers but indicating a “tentative restart” from the record lows in May.

The market share held by battery-electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and hybrids hit 16.5% in June 2020 – nearly triple the 5.9% share seen in June 2019

Overall, the new car market was down 34.9% year-on-year in June – a fall of 89.0% had been seen in May – with fleet registrations declining 45.2% (compared to -93.4% in May). Business registrations to sub-25 fleets were down 52.6% (-81.1% in May) while private registrations proved more resilient and fell ‘just’ 19.2% year-on-year (-83.8% in May).

More positive news came in the form of ultra-low emission vehicle registrations. Battery-electric vehicles more than tripled, from 2,461 units in June 2019 to 8,903 last month. Registrations of plug-in hybrids rose 117%, from 2,270 units to 4,926. And hybrids were up 19.3%, from 8,583 to 10,239 units. As a result, the market share for all three segments hit 16.5% – nearly triple the 5.9% share seen in June 2019. In comparison, diesel registrations declined 59.8% and petrols were down 39.9%.

Year-to-date, new car registrations fell 48.5%, equating to some 653,502 units registered overall – the lowest level since 1971. Fleet registrations for the first six months of the year were down by half (51.5%) to 325,518 units.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said that with one in five showrooms in England remaining shut throughout June, and those in Wales and Scotland having been unable to open until the end of the month, the figures still left some uncertainty regarding the true level of demand.

However, the June data does indicate a need for government support in the form of a scrappage scheme; the figures for the month had been expected to provide the acid test of whether such a scheme was required after weeks of calls from the industry.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “While it’s welcome to see demand rise above the rock-bottom levels we saw during lockdown, this is not a recovery and barely a restart. Many of June’s registrations could be attributed to customers finally being able to collect their pre-pandemic orders, and appetite for significant spending remains questionable.”

Pointing to the almost quarter of a million sales to private buyers now lost since lockdown – which has cost the Treasury £1.1bn in VAT receipts, Hawes added: “The Government must boost the economy, help customers feel safer in their jobs and in their spending and give businesses the confidence to invest in their fleets. Otherwise it runs the risk of losing billions more in revenue from this critical sector at a time when the public purse needs it more than ever.”

The July figures are expected to bring a more accurate picture of the shape of the market, both as the effects of pent-up demand start to ease and to reflect the re-opening of UK dealerships across the board, but concerns are still high over a lack of business confidence and the end of the furlough scheme.

Seán Kemple, director of sales at Close Brothers Motor Finance, said: “The UK motor industry has been through big changes in June, and this is beginning to reap rewards as car sales start creeping back up from the last three months. The V-shaped recovery that we’ve already seen in China and Germany should be mirrored in the UK – we all have our fingers crossed as the country starts its ascent.

“But with demand putting immense pressure on supply, the biggest challenge now will be for carmakers. Faced with social distancing restrictions, job losses, and falling profits, it will be no easy task to kickstart production to pre-Covid-19 levels.

“Support from the Government will be crucial to get the sector back to strength, as will the expertise from dealers to help consumers feel confident in their big purchase.”

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for 16 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. As Business Editor, Natalie ensures the group websites and newsletters are updated with the latest news.