Car sales fall as removal of subsidies and Brexit take toll

Harry Robertson
Follow Harry
On The Factory Floor At The Jaguar Rover Factory
Source: Getty

The number of new cars registered in the UK fell 4.1 per cent in April compared to the year before, as demand among consumers shrank, according to official figures released today.

Read more: Brexit stockpiling slowdown hurts UK manufacturing growth

Meanwhile, registration of new plug-in hybrids declined dramatically, falling 34.4 per cent year-on-year.

The drop off in hybrid purchases was due, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) who released the figures, to the government “prematurely removing upfront purchase incentives before the market is ready”.

Diesel registrations fell again, but the pace of decline slowed considerably compared to March, falling 9.4 per cent to 46,589 cars. A total of 161,064 new vehicles registered in April, giving diesel vehicles a 28.9 per cent market share.

Howard Archer, chief economic advisor to EY Item Club, said: “Consumer confidence surveys for April – notably GfK and the Markit household finance survey – indicated that consumers are currently reluctant to make big ticket purchases despite the delaying of Brexit.”

Demand for alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFV) rose, with 12.7 per cent more cars leaving showrooms than a year earlier. At 9,102 vehicles, AFVs have a market share of 6.4 per cent.

Many more Britons bought battery electric cars in April compared to a year earlier, with 1,517 units registered compared to 929. However, this still only represents 0.9% of the market.

SMMT said that manufacturers are investing heavily to bring ultra-low and zero emission cars to market, with around 40 plug-in models now available in showrooms and over 20 more expected to arrive in 2019.

Yet the manufacturing body warned that “if this still emerging sector is to reach meaningful levels, measures and incentives that build business and consumer confidence will be vital”.

Mike Hawes, chief executive at SMMT, said: “While it’s great to see buyers respond to the growing range of pure electric cars on offer, they still only represent a tiny fraction of the market and are just one of a number of technologies that will help us on the road to zero.”

“We need policies that help get the latest, cleanest vehicles on the road more quickly and support market transition for all drivers. This includes investment in infrastructure and long term incentives to make new technologies as affordable as possible,” he said.

Sue Robinson, director of the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA), said the figures were “affected by Easter falling in April this year, which, alongside the warm weather, caused a slowdown in physical footfall to dealerships.”

Read more: British car manufacturing falls for tenth straight month

She said: “Positively, there continues to be solid demand at franchised dealerships for used and nearly new cars, which provide excellent opportunities for all types of motorists.”