UK car registrations fall to weakest Oct since 1991: SMMT

New car registrations in the UK dropped 25% year on year in October to 106,265 units, the lowest October volume since 1991, according to data released Nov. 4 by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

The October volume was also to fourth consecutive month to see year-on-year drops, despite 2020 experiencing stronger pandemic restriction.

“The current performance reflects the challenging supply constraints, with the industry battling against semiconductor shortages and increasingly strong economic headwinds as inflation rises, taxes increase and consumer confidence has weakened,” SMMT CEO Mike Hawes said.

While gasoline and diesel cars fell 31% and 66% year on year, respectively, to 48,384 units and 7,028 units, sales of plug-in vehicle uptake remained positive in the month before COP26, SMMT said.

Battery electric vehicles equaling their September market share of 15.2% with 16,155 units sold, up 73% on the year. A year ago, BEVs had made up a 6.6% share of total vehicle sales.

Plug-in hybrid EVs sales rose 7.5% year on year to 8,382 units, equivalent to a 7.9%, up from the previous month’s 6.4% share and 5.5% a year ago.

However, hybrid EV sales dropped 21.5% year on year to 8,649 units, although their market share rose slightly from 7.8% a year ago to 8.1% in October.

Hawes said that almost one in six new cars registered in 2021 were “capable of zero-emission motoring, growth that is fundamental to the UK’s ability to hit its net zero targets.”

“With next year looking brighter, and even more new models expected, the continuation of this transition will depend on the preservation of incentives that overcome the affordability barrier, and the ability of the public and private sectors to increase public on street charging to allay EV driver concerns,” Hawes said.

Gasoline cars kept their majority market share of 45.5%, but this was down from 49.5% a year ago, while diesel sales only made up 6.6% of the whole market, down from 14.9% in October 2020.

While October was traditionally a quieter month after September’s plate change, KPMG UK head of automotive Richard Peberdy said in emailed comments to the media that the “gloomy picture is compounded by fewer cars rolling off production lines due to supply chain challenges, and the beginnings of shakier consumer confidence with the looming threat of interest rate rises.”

He said these factors were contributing to a booming second-hand market at the cost of new car sales.

“The impact that record high fuel prices will have on pushing motorists towards EV options shouldn’t be understated. Yet EVs aren’t insulated from the wider energy crisis. A tough winter for energy companies will make plug-in drivers think carefully about their tariffs to avoid unexpectedly high bills,” Peberdy added.

According to the SMMT data, the Volkswagen Polo was the best-selling car during October, followed by the MINI and the Nissan Qashqai.

— Jacqueline Holman