Britain’s new car market recorded its second successive month of growth in September and also saw the one millionth plug-in electric vehicle hit our roads.
Registrations of new motors increased 4.6 per cent compared with the same month in 2021, according to the latest figures published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
However, industry experts warn demand is likely to shrink in the coming months with the nation gripped by the cost-of-living crunch and many big-ticket purchases cancelled.
The Sunderland-built Nissan Qashqai was the best-selling new car last month – and it’s now close to becoming the most popular model in 2022, in a boon to the North East.
Car sale growth set to be derailed by cost-of-living crunch: The plate-change month of September saw a second consecutive month of growing registrations
Some 225,269 new cars were registered in September, which is typically the sector’s second biggest month of the year due to the release of a new number plate.
The trade body warned that while a second month of sales growth was welcomed, September last year is the weakest on record since 1998.
Sales last month were still 34.4 per cent below pre-pandemic levels as the industry continued to battle supply problems.
Despite sales growth in August and September, registrations of new cars so far this year are 8.2 per cent down on the same period in 2021.
Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, warned that the overall market ‘remains weak’ as supply chain issues ‘continue to constrain model availability’.
He added: ‘Whilst the industry is working hard to address these issues, the long-term recovery of the market also depends on robust consumer confidence and economic stability.’
The trade body welcomed a rise in year-on-year car sales last month, though pointed out that September 2021 registrations used for comparison was the worst for registrations since 1998
Industry commentators warn they expect to see consumers cancel plans to buy new cars for the rest of the year as inflation, mortgage rates, food prices and energy costs rise
Experts expect new car demand to dwindle in the coming months, with the cost-of-living crisis likely to put a stranglehold on big ticket purchases.
Lisa Watson, director of sales at Close Brothers Motor Finance, said: ‘We’ve seen some encouraging signs for the automotive sector in recent months. Waiting times are coming down, but economic headwinds are clearly building.
‘While there is still strong demand from car buyers, many are adapting their wish lists based on market conditions. Some families and small business owners are also choosing to hold on to their existing vehicles for longer than they might have planned.’
The overall market remains weak as supply chain issues continue to constrain model availability
Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive
Sue Robinson from the National Franchised Dealer Association, added: ‘Flattening consumer demand, driven by rising inflation, combined with tight supply in both new and used vehicles, driven by macro-economic factors, will continue to create challenging trading conditions for all in the automotive sector.
‘NFDA feels that the Government must act now to support this important sector for the UK economy, which employs over 540,000 people.’
Chris Knight, Automotive Partner, KPMG UK, said: ‘As consumer credit becomes more expensive due to higher interest rates, we expect to see a fall in the average price paid for new vehicles, whilst some consumers will delay buying a new car altogether.
‘For existing customers facing increased outgoings, some will question the affordability of their car payments.
‘Manufacturers are working hard not to pass their own cost increases onto customers in the form of higher prices. Whilst lower cost brands may feel this combination of factors presents opportunity to grow market share.’
One millionth ‘electrified’ car sold in Britain
Electric vehicle uptake continued to rise, albeit at a slower rate of growth than seen earlier in the year, which is linked to both a slowdown in availability of new vehicles and the Government’s decision to terminate grants towards their purchase and the installation of homecharger devices earlier this year.
Yet the introduction of the new ’72’ number plate in September did spark the second highest monthly volume of electric vehicle registrations in history, up 16.5 per cent to 38,116 EVs.
Among them was the one millionth electric car to enter Britain’s roads, the SMMT confirmed.
So far this year, 175,600 battery-only vehicles have been bought by private buyers and fleets, the data shows.
The one-millionth plug-in car – both fully-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles – was purchased in Britain last month, the SMMT confirmed
Diesel sales continue to go into freefall, with almost half as many registered in September than fully-electric cars
Mr Hawes added: ‘September has seen Britain’s millionth electric car reach the road – an important milestone in the shift to zero emission mobility.
‘Battery electric vehicles make up but a small fraction of cars on the road, so we need to ensure every lever is pulled to encourage motorists to make the shift if our green goals are to be met.’
EV expert and founder of Electrifying.com, Ginny Buckley, said the one-millionth electrified car sale should not mask the decline in low-emission vehicle registrations in recent months, which could become an increasing cause of concern for ministers.
‘In March 2022, we saw nearly 40,000 electric cars registered – a 78.7 per cent increase on March 2021.
‘However, the latest stats show us that in September 2022 just over 38,000 electric cars were registered on our roads, which is only a 16.5 per cent increase on the same time last year,’ she told us.
‘Affordability is clearly an issue and with just seven models available for under £30,000, this is a sign that Britain’s electric car buyers are struggling to get behind the wheel.
‘This, together with the withdrawal of the government grant, cost of living crisis and hike in energy prices is clearly leading to a slow-down in demand for electric cars.
‘If we are to reach our net zero ambitions, both the government and industry need to keep a close eye on this decline in growth. Without action we risk stalling the electric revolution.’
While EV sales are now much higher than diesel, there has been a drop off in growth in recent months that is linked to supply shortages, termination of grants and increasing model prices
Elsewhere, registrations of plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) declined by 11.5 per cent, though when combined with fully-electric cars it means that more than one in five new cars entering the road network in September had a plug attached to them.
Hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) registrations, meanwhile, grew by 16.5 per cent in the month, as petrol sales also grew 4.3 per cent to 126,873 motors – which is still over three times more than the number of pure electric cars bought.
Diesel demand continues to decline with 14.5 per cent fewer sales year-on-year. With just 18,911, that’s almost half as many pure electric cars registered.
Sunderland’s Nissan Qashqai tops September sales
The latest Nissan Qashqai, which went on sale last year, was the best-selling new car last month and is on the verge of overtaking the Vauxhall Corsa as the most popular model of 2022.
Some 9,311 Qashqai SUVs, which are produced at the Japanese firm’s Sunderland plant, were registered in September.
The year total so far for the family-friendly Nissan is 29,334 units, which is hot on the heels of Vauxhall in the top spot, which has sold just six more Corsas (29,342) in 2022.
Good news for the north east: The Sunderland-built Nissan Qashqai SUV was the most-popular new car in September – and is just 8 cars short of matching the 2022 best seller
The Tesla Model Y was the second most-popular new car to enter our roads in September. Tesla registrations tend to be far higher at the end of each quarter when shipments of vehicles typically arrive for UK customers
Just last month, Nissan UK announced that production of SUVs at the Sunderland plant have now surpassed five million units, combining the output of Qashqai and Juke models built in total at the factory.
In second place in the September-only sales chart was Tesla’s Model Y electric SUV, with the US brand always recording high registrations at the end of each quarter, which is typically when new shipments of its cars arrive in the UK.
The Model Y is now the eighth best-selling motor in Britain in the first nine months of the year.