UK car market dips again in February ahead of 18 plate release

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Author: | Updated: 05 Mar 2018 09:47

The UK’s new car market declined 2.8% year-on-year in February, marking the eleventh consecutive month of falling new car registrations.

The latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) revealed a total of 80,805 new cars hit the road last month – down from 83,115 in 2018.

New car registrations February 2018

So far this year, the UK new car market has declined 5.1%, with registrations by business, private and fleet buyers all down, 29.8%, 7.1% and 2.1% respectively.

Although February is traditionally a quiet month for the car industry ahead of the new number plate release, a 23.5% year-on-year fall in diesel registrations remains a large contributing factor for the fall.

Year-on-year registrations 2002 - 2018

Continuing recent trends, demand for petrol and alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs) rose in February, up 14.4% and 7.2% respectively, with the former driven by some new, smaller models coming to market.

Diesel decline continues

Despite double-digit growth in petrol registrations, it still remains unable to make up for the fall in diesel, which now has a 35.6% market share. This suggests that diesel drivers are keeping older cars for longer – disappointing considering the latest diesels can help address air quality issues.

Total registrations February 2018

That’s also something that the government was keen to avoid, but no doubt the upcoming first-year VED hike for diesels as well as rhetoric surrounding potential clean air zones have contributed to the fuel’s decline.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes commented: “Although the new car market has dipped, it remains at a good level despite the drop in demand for diesel. Consumers should be reassured, however, that the latest cars are the cleanest in history and can help address air quality issues, which is why they are exempt from any restrictions.”

Ford Fiesta remains the UK's most popular car.

Read more: Top five cars for the all-new 18 plate

Ashley Barnett from Lex Autolease said: “Higher taxes and Clean Air Zones could be discouraging the use of diesel cars and driving a shift towards petrol, as some consumers remain undecided on the suitability of alternative fuels for their needs […] average CO2 emissions figure for new cars rose in 2017 for the first time in 19 years, which could be an unintended consequence of the push against diesel over the past 12 months.”

What’s the most popular car?

As ever, the Ford Fiesta remains flavour of the month and comfortably retained its number one spot in February. Meanwhile, the Golf was the second-most popular last month and in the year-to-date, while the remained in third position.

Most popular cars February 2018

Crossovers continue to dominate the market too with the Ford Kuga, Vauxhall Mokka X and Kia Sportage all featuring in February’s top ten. None of them could trump the Mercedes-Benz A-Class however, which found itself in fourth place, proving people are increasingly favouring premium models largely thanks to attractive finance options.

Despite diesel’s decline however, the UK remains Europe’s second-largest new car market. Looking ahead, the SMMT expects that registrations will continue to fall this year following record registrations in 2016/17. Forecasts predict the fall will be between 5% and 7% in 2018.

Hawes said: “Looking ahead to the crucial number plate change month of March, we expect a further softening, given March 2017 was a record as registrations were pulled forward to avoid VED changes.”

More industry news here

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