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Fleet sales down in 43% in ‘desperately disappointing September’

Fleet sales have tumbled and new car registrations have fallen to their weakest September level since 1998 on the back of the continued semiconductor shortages.

While overall new car registrations slumped, battery electric vehicles charged ahead as 32,721 joined the road in September – the best monthly performance ever

Despite the introduction of the new 71 plates, last month saw just 215,312 new cars registered – down 34.4% on September 2020, when pandemic restrictions were significantly curtailing economic activity and, more tellingly, down 44.7% on the pre-pandemic 10-year average.

The new SMMT figures also show that fleet registrations were particularly hard-hit, down 43.1% to 90,445 units and prompting the sector’s market share to fall to 42.0% of total new car registrations (compared to 48.5% a year ago). ‘Business’ registrations to companies with fewer than 25 vehicles fell 43.3% to 4,307 units. Private registrations also declined but by a smaller 25.3% to 120,560 units, giving a 56.0% share.

As a result of the month’s disappointing performance, registrations year to date are now only 5.9% ahead of 2020 figures, and 29.4% down on the pre-pandemic decade-long average.

But despite the semiconductor supply issues, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) registrations soared 49.4% and recorded their best monthly performance ever as 32,721 joined the road – that’s only some 5,000 less than the total BEVs registered in the whole of 2019 and gave a market share of 15.2% compared to 6.7% a year ago.

Take-up of plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) also rocketed – up 11.5% to 13,884 units and growing their market share to 6.4%. Meanwhile, hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) also increased their overall market share from 8.0% in 2020 to 11.6%, with 24,961 registered in the month – this was however down 5.1% on September 2020.

As a result of increased interest in EVs, a third (33.2%) of all new car registrations last month were either electric, plug-in hybrid or full hybrid.

Meanwhile, diesel sales (excluding mild hybrids) slumped 77.3% to 10,658 units – giving just a 5.0% market share or 10.3% with mild hybrid diesels included. Petrol registrations (excluding mild hybrids) were down nearly half (46.6%) to 94,314 units while mild hybrid petrols fell 10.1%.

Commenting on the new figures, Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “This is a desperately disappointing September and further evidence of the ongoing impact of the Covid pandemic on the sector. Despite strong demand for new vehicles over the summer, three successive months have been hit by stalled supply due to reduced semiconductor availability, especially from Asia. Nevertheless, manufacturers are taking every measure possible to maintain deliveries and customers can expect attractive offers on a range of new vehicles.”

He added: “Despite these challenges, the rocketing uptake of plug-in vehicles, especially battery electric cars, demonstrates the increasing demand for these new technologies. However, to meet our collective decarbonisation ambitions, we need to ensure all drivers can make the switch – not just those with private driveways – requiring a massive investment in public recharging infrastructure. Charge point roll-out must keep pace with the acceleration in plug-in vehicle registrations.”

Meryem Brassington, electrification propositions lead at Lex Autolease, also said the rise of EV registrations was a major boost as we work towards the 2030 ICE ban deadline.

She continued: “The recent fuel shortage will only have further heightened awareness of the importance of transitioning to an electric future. As EVs continue to rise in popularity, industry must work collaboratively to ensure there isn’t a tipping point of demand outstripping supply.”

Jon Lawes, managing director, Hitachi Capital Vehicle Solutions, agreed that the fuel crisis had reinforced clear shifts in driver priorities to cleaner, greener vehicles.

“A new form of anxiety affecting drivers of ICE vehicles has emerged during the fuel crisis. With the price at the pumps also heading in the wrong direction despite fuel shortages beginning to ease, we’ve seen EV enquiries increase markedly by 33% over the past month and our corporate order bank is currently at 85% ULEV.

“These recent events will only heighten a new wave of enthusiasm for EVs and provide further impetus for many drivers to make the switch. With COP26 around the corner, it’s vitally important all facets of the motor industry respond to this momentum.”

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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.

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