UK new car market fell in ‘crucial’ month of March

04 April 2019

4 April 2019

UK new car registrations declined in March as the sector continues to fluctuate in the wake of Brexit uncertainty.

Registrations in the country were down by 3.4% according to data released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). The month of March is strong in the UK due to the release of new age-related number plates but the new car market suffered its first big drop in 2019 as it contends with Brexit, economic uncertainty and continued deterioration in diesel demand.

The first plate change of the year is often seen as a bellwether period for the UK sector, highlighting consumer confidence and the health of wider economy as consumers are driven into showrooms.

The downturn in demand is hardly unexpected given the current trading environment in the UK and as supply recovers following the implementation of WLTP in September. Delayed deliveries are no longer boosting registrations activity and mitigating the impact of an underlying downturn in demand. The March new car results and 2.4% year-on-year decline in the first quarter remain in line with Autovista’s outlook for the UK automotive sector.

Demand fell in both the private and business sectors, with registrations down 2.8% and 44.8% respectively, although fleet demand was stable, up 0.3%. Declines were seen across almost every vehicle segment, including the popular dual purpose (down 1.8%) and small family car (down 4%) segments. However, superminis, Britain’s favourite vehicle type, saw a 4.3% increase in demand, taking a third (33.7%) of all registrations.

Following the trend of recent months, diesel registrations fell 21.4% while petrol demand grew 5.1%. Meanwhile, demand for Alternative Fuel Vehicles (AFVs) increased by 7.6% with 25,302 registered, the biggest March volume on record. With almost 40 plug-in models on the market in the UK, and over 20 more expected to arrive in 2019, demand for these new technologies is expected to continue to grow. 

Today’s figures come as SMMT launches a major new report showing UK consumers could be among the first in the world to benefit from self-driving vehicles. The research positions the UK at number one, globally, for mass market potential. Provided the conditions are met, the rollout of connected and autonomous technology could prevent 47,000 serious accidents and save 3,900 lives over the next decade – with an overall £62 billion (€73 billion) economic opportunity by 2030.

However, the ability to realise this is dependent in part on the UK leaving the EU with a deal that benefits the automotive industry. A ′no deal’ scenario would have a devastating impact on investment and our hard-won reputation – risking the UK’s position as a leading global market and a centre of excellence for innovation. 

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, comments: ′March is a key barometer for the new car market, so this fall is of clear concern. While manufacturers continue to invest in exciting models and cutting-edge tech, for the UK to reap the full benefits of these advances, we need a strong market that encourages the adoption of new technology. That means supportive policies, not least on vehicle taxation and incentives, to give buyers the confidence to invest in the new car that best meets their driving needs. Above all, we urgently need an end to the political and economic uncertainty by removing permanently the threat of a ′no deal’ Brexit and agreeing a future relationship that avoids any additional friction that would increase costs and hence prices.’