May’s 3.5% year-on-year dip was “no surprise”, said SMMT chief executive Paul Everitt, adding: “It reflects concerns across the economy and we expect a tough year ahead.”
Last month was the first sizeable downturn in private demand (9.5%, a year-on-year fall of 7,709 units to 73,422).
The business market (companies with less than 25 vehicles) was “very weak”, plunging 15.4% to 9,262.
Fleet registrations rose 3.1% to 96,588, raising suspicions of daily hire deals to bolster totals.
All three sectors fell over the first five months of 2008.
Weaker private demand is a concern, said the SMMT, adding: “The outlook remains cautious, with volumes expected to slide further.”
But, the SMMT said the slowdown remains relatively mild, considering the warning signs from other parts of the economy.
The May volume of 179,272 was in line with the SMMT forecast, and the year-to-date total is only 0.6% behind 2007.
Nissan did well in May – more than 9% up year-on-year and 27% ahead on year-to-date.
Michael Finn, chairman of the Nissan dealer council and managing director of Wellington Motor Group, said: “We are all going to have to raise our game over the coming months to win a larger slice of a smaller cake.”
Other brands are doing badly.
Toyota was more than 19% down year-on-year in May, and nearly 9% lower YTD – the corresponding minuses for Lexus were around 23% and 18%.
A Toyota spokeswoman said supplies of the Yaris TR, Aygo Platinum and RAV4 XTR were lower than expected in May.
“Fleet performance was down but is expected to improve for first-half as a whole.” she said.
May’s key issue for Lexus was supply restrictions for RX400h and LS600h, but planned supply volumes were just starting to come through.
Citroën was down nearly 18% in May, and by more than 13% year-to-date.
A spokesman said: “Our sales are in line with planned expectations. With the raft of new Citroën car and light-commercial models arriving this year, we expect our year-end market share to be similar 2007’s.”
Last month’s total was the smallest for May since 1999. That figure was 7% lower (13,566 units) than the 1999-2007 May average of 192,838 (8% of the annual market).
The 12-month rolling total fell to 2.398 million in May.
The SMMT says: “Volumes would need to slip by some 63,000 units over the remaining seven months to achieve our full-year 2.335m forecast.”
In May demand for alternatively-fuelled cars slowed for the first time this year, and registrations were 8.3% lower than in May 2007.
The acceleration of a price premium over unleaded failed to dampen enthusiasm for diesel cars: they took 44.8% of May registrations (8.4% higher year-on-year), and corresponding YTD figures are 43%/10.4%.
Top May registrations
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