New car sales accelerated in August as the fleet sector stayed strong

Emma Haslett
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A Chinese man walks by Ferrari cars line
Fancy a Ferrari? The rise was driven by growth in the fleet sector (Source: Getty)

The UK's car buyers went haywire for hatchbacks and crazy for convertibles last month, figures published today have shown.

The report, by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), showed new car registrations rose 3.3 per cent year on year in August - up from a measly 0.1 per cent rise in July.

Some 81,640 new cars were registered in August, the figures showed, pushing this year's total up to 1.68m units.

This comes after figures at the end of last month showed UK car manufacturers have made the most new cars since 2000 this year.

The fleet sector drove growth (see what we did there), rising 7.7 per cent to 43,627 - while private registrations actually fell, albeit by just 0.2 per cent.

Demand for diesel cars also fell 0.2 per cent, while petrol registrations rose 5.3 per cent. But the biggest rise was in registrations of alternatively fuelled vehicles (aka hybrids and electric cars), which rose 30.8 per cent. Almost 54,000 such vehicles have been registered in 2016, up from 44,000 at the same point last year.

Read more: Ten ways the electric car revolution will transform the global economy

The most popular vehicle remained the Ford Fiesta, with 4,547 new Fiestas registered in August. That was followed by the Focus, the Vauxhall Corsa and the Vauxhall Astra.

And although Volkswagen maintained its place in the top 10, despite the emissions cheating scandal, with both the Golf and the Polo, its sister brand Audi was conspicuous by its absence.

"August is traditionally one of the quietest months as consumers look ahead to the September plate change, so growth, albeit small, is good news," said Mike Hawes, SMMT's chief executive.

"The key to maintaining this strong market is consumer confidence for which we look to government to deliver the conditions for economic growth."

But Howard Archer, chief European and UK economist at IHS Markit, added that this may be a short-term gain.

"The serious concern for the car sector going forward is that the fundamentals for consumers will increasingly soften over the coming months, thereby weighing down on spending – especially consumers’ willingness and ability to make big ticket purchases such as cars," he said.

"Consumers are likely to face less favourable purchasing power as inflation rises and earnings growth is limited by companies striving to limit their costs. In addition, unemployment seems seem likely to rise over the coming months."

August's most popular cars

1. Ford Fiesta 4,547
2. Ford Focus 2,519
3. Vauxhall Corsa 2,393
4. Vauxhall Astra 1,931
5. Volkswagen Golf 1,855
6. Volkswagen Polo 1,765
7. Vauxhall Mokka 1,762
8. Kia Sportage 1,540
9. Ford Kuga 1,515
10. Nissan Qashqai 1,491

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