The UK new car market declined by -35.5% in February as 28,282 fewer units were registered during a traditionally weak month for new vehicle uptake, according to figures published today by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). The industry recorded its lowest February uptake since 1959, with 51,312 new cars registered.
With showrooms closed nationwide since 5 January – and in many parts of the country, since December – both private and fleet sector demand fell, by -37.3% and -33.5% respectively. All vehicle segments saw declines save for luxury saloons, which recorded a 3.8% increase against a statistically very small proportion of the market.
Plug-in vehicles continued to enjoy growth, with BEVs and PHEVs taking a combined 13.0% market share for the month, up from just 5.7% in February 2020. BEV uptake increased by 40.2% to 3,516, and PHEVs by 52.1% to 3,131 as the industry continues to promote a broad range of lower-emission technologies for consumers. However, increasing uptake of these new technologies to the levels required by 2030 remains a mammoth task, with yesterday’s Budget proving a missed opportunity given the lack of measures to support the market overall and notably the transition away from pure petrol and diesel cars and vans.
“February is traditionally a small month for car registrations and with showrooms closed for the duration, the decline is deeply disappointing but expected. More concerning, however, is that these closures have stifled dealers’ preparations for March with the expectation that this will now be a third, successive dismal ‘new plate month’. Although we have a pathway out of restrictions with rapid vaccine rollout, and proven experience in operating click and collect, it is essential that showrooms reopen as soon as possible so the industry can start to build back better, and recover the £23 billion loss from the past year,” said Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive.
More positively, the Chancellor answered industry’s call for a furlough extension, vital given the massive fall in vehicle demand. With the country facing ongoing restrictions until at least 12 April, the automotive industry expects a challenging March, traditionally the sector’s most important month which would typically account for one in five annual registrations.
While online orders and click and collect can provide a lifeline, showroom closures mean dealerships will find it significantly more challenging to fill order banks following £23 billion worth of fewer registrations since March 2020. As a result, SMMT has revised its market outlook to 1.83 million new car registrations in 2021, down from the 1.89 million predicted in January. Most of these losses are expected to occur in March.