New car registrations fell 6.4% in August but the SMMT expects “historically high levels of demand” to continue as motorists flock to buy September’s 67-plate vehicles.
A total of 76,433 vehicles were sold in August as the market declined 6.4% over the same period in 2016 to take the year-to-date market to 1.64m – down 2.4% on the first eight months of last year.
It was the fifth consecutive month of market decline for the UK car retail sector but the SMMT insisted that sales figures has so far “remained broadly in line with expectations”.
Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “August is typically a quiet month for the new car market as consumers and businesses delay purchases until the arrival of the new number plate in September.
“With the new 67-plate now available and a range of new models in showrooms, we anticipate the continuation of what are historically high levels of demand.”
The SMMT reported that superminis and small family cars remained the most popular types in August, accounting for more than half (58.3%) of registrations.
However, SUVs, larger family cars and executives were the only segments to grow, up 7.9%, 2.2% and 1.1% respectively.
More people chose to get behind the wheel of an alternatively fuelled vehicle (AFV) than ever before in the month, accounting for a 5.2% share of the market, as demand for petrol hybrid and pure electric battery powered cars increased substantially, up 74.9% and 62.5% and plug-in hybrid registrations rose 38.5%.
Conventional petrols grew 3.8% and diesels fell 21.3%, the SMMT reported.
Sue Robinson, director of the National Franchised Dealers Association, said: “It is notable that Alternative Fuel Vehicles continue to grow market share, up 5.2% in August to over 71,000 units registered year to date amidst the increased volume of diesel scrappage schemes being announced.
“Given the substantial decline in diesel registrations, it is crucial that modern Euro 6 diesel cars are not compared to older diesel vehicles. NFDA and its members are working hard to clarify the facts surrounding the whole diesel issue and helping consumers find the car best suited to their needs.”
Chris Bosworth, director of strategy at Close Brothers Motor Finance, described August as “a notoriously testing month” for new car registrations as consumers divert their spending toward family activities and holidays, but added: “With Brexit negotiations well underway and the government announcing radical changes to the sale of fossil fuelled cars, the motor industry is entering a wave of prolonged uncertainty. This will likely have an impact on consumer spending habits. The Bank of England has already announced that car finance deals have eased as a result.
“In fact, 5.5 million British motorists say Brexit has already had a direct impact on their car purchasing plans and has made them more likely to purchase a used car or to hold off their purchase altogether – all of which can have a knock-on effect on the industry and the wider economy.
“That said, now that the new car registration plates have been released, we expect consumers will splash out on new cars over the next month, keeping in line with the annual trend.”