The UK’s motor industry has celebrated a year of growth with February enjoying the 12th consecutive month of increased new car registrations.
The month ended at 66,749 registrations, 7.9% ahead of February 2012, according to data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
Although February is typically the smallest volume monthly market, ahead of the registration plate-change in March, it was boosted by private demand again, said the SMMT, and secured the highest growth in the private market since the end of the Scrappage Incentive Scheme in spring 2010.
“UK new car registrations have risen every month for the last year with February continuing the trend, growing 7.9% year-on-year boosted by the highest increase in private consumer demand since spring 2010,” said Mike Baunton, interim chief executive, SMMT.
“However, February is traditionally a low volume month as motorists look forward to the plate-change in March, but attractive new car deals are sustaining the market.
New models are delivering ever greater fuel efficiency, practicality, refinement, technology and predictable ownership costs, so motorists are seeing the benefit of new car purchases.”
Sue Robinson, director of the RMI National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA), said: “In previous years February has tended to report a low market in unit numbers, particularly in retail sales, as consumers wait for the plate change on March 1.
“Therefore it is encouraging that February experienced such increased sales with the market supported by strong manufacturer deals and offers that are encouraging consumers to buy.
“We expect market growth to continue at a similar level during March with dealers already reporting boosted sales.
"There continues to be a strong demand from consumers.”
It was a view shared by Richard Lowe, head of retail and wholesale at Barclays.
He said: “With the launch of the new plate in March, we expect sales to continue to hold firm.
The 13-plate is already proving popular with many of our clients reporting early signs of strong sales.”
The big brands.
Ford and Vauxhall each added more than 1,000 registrations, with the former growing 11.7% or 1,048 units year-on-year to 10,005 cars and the latter adding 1,855 units, a 26.1% rise to 8,957 after low sales in February 2012.
Mark Ovenden, Ford of Britain managing director, said: “Ford is maintaining its sales discipline in a fiercely competitive market by driving up its share of more profitable retail sales.
This strategy is supported by the launches of award-winning vehicles and technologies and the unrivalled strength of our dealer network.”
By comparison Volkswagen suffered a 12.2% fall to 6,609 registrations, 919 fewer than February 2012.
Nissan continues to improve, up 18.3% to 3,796 units, as has Peugeot, whose registrations were 16.7% ahead of February 2012 at 3,689.
Citroën is growing, but continues to be outpaced by Hyundai, which knocked the French brand out of the UK’s top 10 car brands in 2012, with the Korean’s February volume of 2,966 units (a 49.8% rise) pipping Citroën’s 2,822 units (10.7% growth).
The prestige brands
Mercedes-Benz continues to be aggressive and won top spot in this segment in February, with a 13.9% gain year-on-year to 3,382 registrations, an increase of 413 cars.
Marcus Breitschwerdt, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz UK said: “Now we’ll be devoting even more energy to achieving it again, as this is a result we’ll be aiming to repeat as the year goes on.
“With exciting new models, including the CLA and new E-Class on the verge of arriving in the UK, we are in a fantastic position for the future.”
Audi and BMW both suffered at its expense, with a 25.6% fall to 2,962 for the four rings, a loss of 1,021 cars, and 0.8% improvement – 28 extra registrations – to a 3,276 February total for the blue propeller.
Land Rover’s registrations were 33.6% ahead at 1,106, and Jaguar also posted a 34.3% improvement to 266 registrations.
Lexus registrations took a knock, falling 15.9% to 174 units while Infiniti had its worst month since launching in the UK in 2009, with zero new cars registered in February.
An Infiniti spokesman told AM it was an administration issue and in fact eight cars were sold that month, but these will now be included in the March registration data.
Even Porsche saw its February volume slide 25.2% to 119 cars a year on from its introduction of the latest 911.
The budget brands
Dacia racked up 33 registrations, a significant slowdown from January’s 294 units as the brand launched and dealers got their demonstrators, however as a predominantly retail brand its February sales will have been particularly impacted by customers’ anticipation of the 13-plate.
Other established brands at this end of the market struggled in February.
Proton registered just two new cars, 84.6% fewer than the 13 of February 2012, and MG’s nine cars was a 91.3% slump, which it put down to a significant fleet order this time last year.
Chevrolet’s oft-stated ambitions for a 2% market share look set to continue to be a dream given its 47.6% year-on-year fall last month to 249 registrations.
Only Perodua held firm, its 20 registrations a 17.7% improvement.
Elsewhere, Suzuki doubled its February 2012 achievement to record 1,172 registrations.
Its spokesman said consumer awareness of Suzuki cars has improved following a new marketing campaign which includes TV exposure.
In addition, it is continuing its 0% VAT promotion on several models until the end of March, and it also offers the Alto SZ from £5,999 to tempt bargain-hunters.
Kia’s rise continued, with a 21.3% increase year-on-year to 2,183 February registrations, while Skoda’s improvement was a more modest 6.3% to 1,757 units as it awaits a 13-plate push with its replacement Octavia.
Mitsubishi also enjoyed a strong February as its new Outlander SUV joined its range, helping to boost registrations by 192% to 380 cars.