UK sales jump in August as WLTP effect takes hold

05 September 2018

5 September 2018

The UK car market saw a large amount of growth in August. However, the introduction of WLTP regulations on 1 September could have skewed the results.

Demand in the month grew by 23.1%, according to results from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). A total of 94,094 vehicles were registered in what is often considered to be one of the smallest months of the year, before the UK’s plate change in September.

The numbers suggest that the introduction of WLTP has had an effect, with dealers offering deals on stock, and manufacturers resorting to pre-registering vehicles. This avoids the need to look at expensive retrofitting of models already built, as new rules state all vehicles sold after 1 September 2018 need to be WLTP accredited.

One example of how the figures for August have been affected is in the diesel sales numbers. Unlike previous months, which have seen large drops in the market, August saw sales of new diesels fall by just 7.7%. Petrol vehicles rose 39.1% while the UK’s growing range of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and pure electric cars continued to attract buyers, with a record one in 12 people choosing one. Demand surged by a substantial 88.7%, with the sector accounting for 8.0% of the market, its highest level ever.

Demand was up across the board, with consumers and fleets boosting year-on-year registrations by 23.3% and 19.7% respectively, while the smaller business sector rose 166.4%, equivalent to an uplift of around 1,500 units against August last year. Superminis remained the most popular buy, followed by small family and dual purpose cars, with the luxury saloon and city car segments recording the most notable growth, up 120.8% and 39.6%.

In the year to date, the overall market remains down by 4.2%, in line with forecasts after a turbulent first eight months. However, demand remains at a high level with more than 1.5 million new cars featuring the latest in advanced safety, emissions and convenience technology joining British roads so far in 2018.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said, ′It’s great to see such strong growth, particularly in the important electric vehicle market. However, 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. 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.’

Amongst manufacturers, Volkswagen posted growth of 62%, as did the group’s SEAT brand. Ford increased its growth by 21.4% while Honda, which sells small volumes in the country, boosted sales by 91.5%. Volkswagen recently suggested that only half of its models were WLTP compliant.

WLTP impact

The UK is not alone in posting substantial growth in August. However, it is the only country where the month is known to be less important in terms of sales due to an upcoming plate change. To highlight the impact that WLTP-induced discounting and pre-registrations activity is having, preliminary figures show Germany to have increased sales by 24.7%, while France has grown 40% and Spain by 48.7%. The European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) will release its own figures later this month.

VW’s issues with WLTP compliance are shown in Germany too, with the group’s SEAT brand posting registration figures up by over 90% in August, while the VW core brand is up 46.2%. Renault also posted a rise of 101.9% in sales in Germany during the month, highlighting the need for manufacturers to discount or pre-register vehicles to avoid retrofitting.