UK new car registrations tumble again in April

07 May 2019

7 May 2019

UK new car registrations fell again in April as Brexit uncertainty continues to disrupt the automotive sector and delayed vehicle supply no longer comes to the rescue.

Registrations in the country were down by 4.1% year-on-year in April according to data released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). This is the second consecutive month that new car demand has suffered a big drop as the UK has extended its departure date from the European Union and wrestles with economic uncertainty and ongoing deterioration in demand for diesel cars.

The downturn in demand is hardly unexpected given the current trading environment and as supply normalises following the implementation of WLTP in September. Delayed car deliveries are no longer boosting registrations and masking the underlying downturn in demand as they did in previous months. Overall, new car registrations fell by 2.7% in the first four months of 2019 compared to the same period in 2018.

The seasonally-adjusted annualised rate (SAAR) of new car registrations has fallen from a high of almost 2.7 million units in February to 2.4 million in March and 2.3 million in April. Assuming the annualised selling rate is maintained around the 2.3 million unit level for the rest of 2019, the expectation for the year is still in line with Autovista’s outlook for the UK automotive sector that was published back in January.

Source: Autovista Group based on SMMT data

Segment and fuel type breakdown

Demand fell in both the private and business sectors again in April, with registrations down 10.3% and 32.7% respectively, although fleet demand grew by 2.9%. Declines were recorded across most vehicle segments, with registrations of supermini (B-segment) and family cars (C-Segment) falling most significantly, down 14.1% and 10.6%. Demand for lower volume luxury saloons and sports cars rose and the dual purpose (SUV) segment also grew, by +18.4% to 40,580 units. These vehicles are now the third most popular body type in the UK, with registrations tripling since 2012.

Diesel registrations fell again in April although the pace of decline slowed significantly to 9.4% and petrol demand also fell, by 3.0%. Overall, alternative fuel vehicle (AFV) registrations grew by 12.7%, with 10,254 units leaving showrooms. Petrol electric hybrids remained the most popular choice, up 31.1% to 6,810 units. Battery electric cars also recorded a strong uplift, from 929 to 1,517 units, although this still only represents 0.9% of the market.

However, zero emission-capable plug-in hybrids experienced a significant decline, down 34.4% in April and 20.4% year-to-date. The SMMT reports this as ′evidence of the consequences of prematurely removing upfront purchase incentives before the market is ready.’

The industry association reiterates in its release that manufacturers are investing heavily to bring ultra-low and zero emission cars to market but Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, comments:

′We need policies that help get the latest, cleanest vehicles on the road more quickly and support market transition for all drivers. This includes investment in infrastructure and long term incentives to make new technologies as affordable as possible.’