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October 5, 2021

UK car market down 34.4% in September

Supply issues caused by the industry’s semiconductor shortage continue to drag the UK’s car market down.

By David Leggett

The UK new car market has recorded its weakest September since 1998 ahead of the introduction of the two-plate system in 1999, according to figures published today by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

Some 215,312 cars were registered in the month, a 34.4% fall on September 2020, when pandemic restrictions were significantly curtailing economic activity. September is typically the second busiest month of the year for the industry, but with the ongoing shortage of semiconductors impacting vehicle availability, the 2021 performance was down some 44.7% on the pre-pandemic ten-year average.

One bright spot was electric car sales. September was the best month ever for new battery electric vehicle (BEV) uptake. With a market share of 15.2%, 32,721 BEVs joined the road in the month, reflecting the wide range of models now available and growing consumer appetite. Indeed, the September performance alone was just over 5,000 shy of the total number registered during the whole of 2019.

Plug-in hybrid (PHEV) share also grew to 6.4%, meaning more than one in five new cars registered in September was zero-emission capable. Meanwhile, hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) grew their overall market share from 8.0% in 2020 to 11.6%, with 24,961 registered in the month.

Looking at market segmentation, private demand was down 25.3% with 120,560 new registrations in the month, but a bigger fall was recorded in large fleets, which declined by 43.1% to 90,445 units. As a result of the month’s disappointing performance, registrations year to date are now only 5.9% ahead of 2020 figures, and -29.4% down on the pre-pandemic decade-long average.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said: “This is a desperately disappointing September and further evidence of the ongoing impact of the Covid pandemic on the sector. Despite strong demand for new vehicles over the summer, three successive months have been hit by stalled supply due to reduced semiconductor availability, especially from Asia. Nevertheless, manufacturers are taking every measure possible to maintain deliveries and customers can expect attractive offers on a range of new vehicles.

“Despite these challenges, the rocketing uptake of plug-in vehicles, especially battery electric cars, demonstrates the increasing demand for these new technologies. However, to meet our collective decarbonisation ambitions, we need to ensure all drivers can make the switch – not just those with private driveways – requiring a massive investment in public recharging infrastructure. Chargepoint roll-out must keep pace with the acceleration in plug-in vehicle registrations.”

Richard Peberdy, UK head of automotive at KPMG, said:“These figures will likely disappoint for a plate-change month that typically sees a noticeable boost in new car registrations. Intense new vehicle supply issues due to the likes of chip shortages and some remaining Covid-related factory output problems will be limiting some sales, while levels of inflation in parts of the economy are also spooking motorists and businesses into tightening spending.

“That said, electric vehicle sales continue to rise, with problems at the pumps likely to push more motorists towards considering hybrid and electric models.

“Radical change in carmakers’ business models may be necessary to facilitate the electric transition, where they pivot to behave more like mobile phone companies. Mobility packages are now being developed where consumers get the use of a vehicle, a charger on the wall and a new energy tariff to boot, much like how data plans work with mobile phones.”

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