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New car registrations: September figure closes in on pre-recession levels

Customers came out in  droves in September in search of a 63-plate vehicle and continued consumer confidence has put the UK market in touching distance of pre-recession levels.

According to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), September pushed registration figures up 12.1% to 403,135 units, with private registrations increasing by 17% in both September and year-to-date.


Registrations hit 403,135 units, just 16,155 units behind September 2007  
Private registrations up 17% last month and year-on-year  

September 2007 saw 419,290 units registered, just 4% ahead of September 2013. Last month’s plate-change outperformed the figures from March this year and delivered the 19th consecutive increase in registrations and the highest registration performance since March 2008. There will, of course, have been pre-registration activity across the UK, with dealers and manufacturers looking to hit quarterly targets, but most industry commentators put the growth down to strong manufacturer finance offers and the lifting of pressure on budgets. Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “With over 400,000 new cars registered for the first time in more than five years, the UK market is reflecting growing economic confidence.

“Robust private demand has played a major role in this growth with customers attracted by exciting, increasingly fuel-efficient new models that offer savings in the cost of ownership.”

Hawes said he believed the current performance in the new car market was sustainable, with growth continuing next year.

Sue Robinson, director of the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA), said dealership footfall was increasing and interest from consumers was helping to keep the automotive sector stable and growing. She also believed growth would continue into 2014.

Panmure Gordon echoed the sentiment that consumers were being driven to showrooms by PCP deals and the new model pipeline, although acknowledged that pre-registrations would have made some impact on the numbers.

Mike Allen, Panmure Gordon executive director of equity research and support services, said: “Encouragingly, the momentum in the new car market continues to be driven by private registrations.

“Within the brand mix, volume brands such as Fiat, Renault and Mazda performed well, with prestige brands such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes also outperforming the market.

“As ever, this data does not take into account pre-registration activity, which would have occurred particularly towards the end of the tracing period.”

Derek McAllan, head of automotive retail, KPMG, also put the figures in September down to strong private demand, as well as rising house prices feeding consumer confidence: “Having fallen by over 20% during the recession, the UK new car market is in touching distance of pre-recession levels, similar to the US and in stark contrast to the rest of Europe.”


The risers


In what is usually the busiest month of the year for UK forecourts, most brands registered growth in September.

Ford once again leads the market with 51,084 units registered and growth of 7.84%.

Vauxhall and Volkswagen, in second and third place, posted growth of 6.23% and 5.35% respectively.

Despite BMW taking the top spot for premium in terms of volume with 27,308 units registered, Mercedes-Benz posted its best ever UK performance, with a 27.91% increase in registrations to 21,256 units.

Record results were recorded for A-Class, B-Class, as well as full-ranges of C-Class, E-Class and CLS. YTD fleet and business registrations are up 13%, and 27% more private purchasers have chosen Mercedes-Benz so far in 2013.

Marcus Breitschwerdt, president and CEO Mercedes-Benz UK, said: “In isolation, any one of these figures would be a proud moment for us. Combined, they’re spectacular – with every division returning best-ever performances.”

Further down the table, Mitsubishi continues to recover, with 86.71% growth due to the introduction of the Mirage, Outlander and the price movement of the Shogun to make it more competitive. The brand announced ambitious growth plans to increase sales by 20% each year for the next four years to take it back to being a 30,000-unit-a-year player.

Mazda dealers also delivered big growth in September with registrations up by 45.17% to 7,189 cars.

Peter Allibon, sales director at Mazda Motors UK, said: “Our internal challenge was to grow 42% from last September’s 4,950 units. That was a big task in itself, but to achieve 45% is fantastic.” He said Mazda’s no-deposit finance offers are striking a chord with customers. The month’s big hit was the Mazda CX-5 crossover with sales of 1,514, well ahead of expectations, while the Mazda2 remained the best seller – so much so that extra production has been ordered from Japan.

Fiat dealers saw volumes increase by 29.23% to 11,667 units with the 500 and the expansion of that model range with new additions like the 500L MPW helping to boost interest.

Škoda’s transition from being just a value proposition also continues to reap rewards, with registrations up 38.77% to 10,380 units.

Alasdair Stewart, Škoda UK brand director, said: “Our retailers are working hard to deliver great service as the brand grows. We have some fantastic new products in the pipeline.”

Renault dealers will also be happy with a 26.31% increase in volumes to 9,045, which reflects the positive impact of the new Captur crossover and Clio.

Subaru’s recovery is worth noting too, with the Forester helping UK dealers to outperform September last year by almost 50% to 522 units.


The fallers


A bumper September means that brands with negative monthly figures can draw more attention than usual.

There are some familiar names in the bottom five brands, with Perodua and Proton almost ignored in September, registering only 16 cars between them, with drops of 78.33% and 75% respectively.

What may be more surprising is Honda’s 10% drop in registrations. UK dealers have a restricted model range due to Japanese models, such as the CR-Z, Accord and Insight being rather difficult to import at a sensible price.

Honda is still up 3.06% year-to-date and a spokeswoman for the brand told AM that the business is still on track to deliver according to plan.

The flat September for Citroën, down 1.32%, suggests a controlled month. The brand does have new product, with the excellent C4 Picasso arriving in showrooms, but its seven-seater Grand Picasso sibling will take the majority of sales.

Chrysler appears to still be on a downward spiral, with a 20.75% drop in registrations to 630 units. However, while the figures look grim, the brand is recovering compared with its performance over the past couple of years.

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