The UK new car market declined again in October, with registrations falling by -1.6% year on year, according to the latest figures published today by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). The industry recorded 140,945 new registrations last month, making it the weakest October since 2011 and -10.1% lower than the average recorded over the last decade.
The arrival of new models and ongoing financial incentives helped initially to sustain UK demand in the month, but the introduction of a ‘firebreak’ lockdown in Wales on 23 October contributed to the nation recording -25.5% fewer registrations by the end of the month, which accounted for more than half of the overall UK decline.
More encouragingly, battery electric and plug-in hybrid car uptake grew substantially to account for more than one in 10 registrations as new models continue to increase consumer choice. Demand for battery electric vehicles (BEVs) increased by 195.2%, while plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) were up 148.7% compared with October last year. Even with this growth, however, meeting accelerated ambitions for uptake of these vehicles will require government to get behind a truly world-class package of incentives – alongside binding targets on infrastructure to reassure consumers that recharging will be as easy as re-filling.
Subdued activity from businesses drove much of the month’s drop, with around 2,500 fewer vehicles joining larger fleets than in October last year, while private registrations saw a modest increase of 0.4%. However, this performance was flattered by a weak October 2019, when ongoing supply issues arising from regulatory challenges, as well as political and economic uncertainty ahead of the anticipated Halloween Brexit withdrawal date, saw overall registrations by private buyers recede by -13.1% in the month.
As of mid-October, the industry had been expecting to register about 1.66 million new cars in 2020. However, with the announcement of a second lockdown for England, which will include the closure of vehicle showrooms, the market forecast has been downgraded by a further 100,000 units to 1.56 million. This equates to a total year-on-year decline of around 750,000 registrations and a £22.5 billion loss in turnover, with 2020 now likely to be the weakest year since 1982.
While the continuation of click & collect and delivery services is welcome, and should help prevent a return to the sales wipe-out experienced in the spring, it cannot offset the loss of custom from the closure of showrooms themselves, given the unique nature of the car purchase process.
Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said, “When showrooms shut, demand drops, so there is a real danger that with England today entering a second lockdown, both dealers and manufacturers could face temporary closure. What is not in doubt, however, is that the entire industry now faces an even tougher end to the year as businesses desperately try to manage resources, stock, production and cashflow in the penultimate month before the inevitable upheaval of Brexit. Keeping showrooms open – some of the most Covid-secure retail environments around – would help cushion the blow but, more than ever, we need a tariff-free deal with the EU to provide some much-needed respite for an industry that is resilient but massively challenged.”