The UK car market rebound appeared to run out of steam in September

The UK car market rebound appeared to run out of steam in September

The UK car market was down 4.4% versus last year's pace in the month of September, a result widely seen as disappointing and marking the weakest ever 'new plate' September. The recovery to demand following the relaxation of COVID lockdown restrictions from June continues, but the latest data suggests the rebound is now running out of steam as the public health emergency persists.

Data from the SMMT shows the sector recorded 328,041 new registrations in the month – the weakest September since the introduction of the dual number plate system in 1999 and some-15.8% lower than the 10-year average of around 390,000 units for the month. 

The poor monthly performance follows very low volumes recorded in September 2018 and 2019, when regulatory changes surrounding the new WLTP emissions testing regime delayed vehicle certification and caused supply problems across Europe. Some brands hit by these factors previously saw substantial growth in September 2020, but total registrations still fell well short of previous years and follow an erratic period of market performance since emerging from lockdown.

Private registrations fell by 1.1% over the month. Demand from business was also muted, with around 10,000 fewer cars joining larger fleets, representing a 5.8% decline.

More encouragingly, battery electric and plug-in hybrid car uptake grew substantially to account for more than one in 10 registrations as new models continue to increase consumer choice. Demand for battery electric vehicles (BEVs) increased by 184.3% compared with September last year, with the month accounting for a third of all 2020's BEV registrations.

Even with this growth, however, meeting accelerated ambitions for uptake of these vehicles will require government to get behind a truly world-class package of incentives – alongside binding targets on infrastructure to reassure consumers that recharging will be as easy as re-filling.

The market still faces continued pressure, however, with myriad challenges over the next quarter. Brexit uncertainty and the threat of tariffs still concerns the industry, while the shift towards zero emission-capable vehicles is demanding huge investment from the sector.

Additionally, consumer and business confidence is threatened by the forthcoming end of the UK  Government's furlough scheme, an expected rise in unemployment and continuing restrictions on society as a result of the pandemic. With little realistic prospect of recovering the 615,000 registrations lost so far in 2020, the sector now expects an overall 30.6% market decline by the end of the year, equivalent to some GBP21.2 billion in lost sales.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive,?said:?"During a torrid year, the automotive industry has demonstrated incredible resilience, but this is not a recovery. Despite the boost of a new registration plate, new model introductions and attractive offers, this is still the poorest September since the two-plate system was introduced in 1999. Unless the pandemic is controlled and economy-wide consumer and business confidence rebuilt, the short-term future looks very challenging indeed."

UK car sales by brand, September 2020 (ranked by September volumes)

Sept 20%shSept 19%sh%chYTD 20%shYTD 19%sh%ch
Ford282528.612338325229.474589-13.12961177839.47070618812410.10186-37.3908
Volkswagen273288.330666196325.71936339.20131106688.8986021570408.432715-29.5288
Mercedes-Benz235227.170445303988.855807-22.6199846936.8100021404847.543693-39.7134
Audi218936.673861127413.71181871.8311804356.4676241132546.081499-28.9782
BMW212256.470228278348.10884-23.7443846116.8034091319067.083072-35.8551
Toyota196715.996507178585.20254610.15231730675.875178868814.665325-15.8999
Vauxhall196145.979131274037.983278-28.4239720365.7922771372297.368906-47.5067
Kia148964.540896163864.773711-9.09313571554.595724801854.305764-28.7211
Nissan146004.450663137454.0043126.220444539054.334398750074.027717-28.1334
Hyundai116453.549861144184.200376-19.2329378473.043205686693.68738-44.8849
Land Rover114443.488588127913.726384-10.5308448403.605499607133.260159-26.1443
Skoda108923.32031792022.68080618.36557437283.516085585703.145085-25.3406
Peugeot105133.204782109183.180726-3.70947418753.367089645363.465446-35.1137
Renault104543.186797118143.441756-11.5118351262.824414479862.576746-26.7995
Volvo91472.78837188032.5645663.907759321842.587854443482.381393-27.4285
MINI90952.772519126913.697251-28.335338262.719884507432.724791-33.3386
SEAT71382.17594882162.393556-13.1207349982.814122549952.953115-36.3615
Mazda61171.86470676002.214097-19.5132187961.51135333241.789428-43.5962
Honda59531.81471255351.6125047.551942224581.805805361761.942574-37.9202
Citroen54711.66777968631.999388-20.2827221071.777582425182.283126-48.0056
Suzuki54241.65345238121.11054542.28751165091.327457297311.596492-44.4721
Dacia52631.60437343001.25271322.39535164341.321427253441.360919-35.1563
Fiat43911.33855247651.388181-7.8489157451.266025248701.335466-36.6908
Jaguar40061.22118960521.763121-33.807183621.476453293641.576784-37.4676
Lexus36931.12577438521.122198-4.12773113410.911908128260.688729-11.578
MG36681.11815313630.397081169.1123142361.1446993520.50218352.22412
Porsche15760.48042817920.522061-12.053686530.695771100000.536979-13.47
Mitsubishi12420.37861120170.58761-38.423474570.599603135210.726049-44.8488
Jeep8430.256987790.2269458.21566133480.26920648780.261938-31.3653
Abarth5780.1761976620.19286-12.688818510.14883528880.155079-35.9072
DS4740.1444945560.161979-14.748217680.14216128420.152609-37.7903
Ssangyong3910.1191923950.115075-1.0126612880.10356616460.088387-21.7497
Alfa Romeo3310.1009025000.145664-33.815330.12326628050.150623-45.3476
smart3200.0975491260.036707153.968310300.0828238680.207703-73.3713
Subaru2720.0829165260.153239-48.2896720.05403420440.109758-67.1233
Bentley2630.0801731530.04457371.8954210100.08121212150.065243-16.8724
Maserati770.023473950.027676-18.94744360.0350587600.04081-42.6316
Alpine100.003048110.003205-9.09091830.0066741370.007357-39.4161
Other British3080.0938914380.127602-29.680414430.11602923740.127479-39.2165
Other Imports58231.77508336731.0700558.53526180671.45273387700.47093106.0091
Total328041100343255100-4.4322712436561001862271100-33.2183

Source: SMMT