UK new car registrations fell 9.0% to 112,162 units in July, according to the latest figures from The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

The result marks the fifth month of consecutive decline, although the fall is the smallest recorded this year and analysis undertaken by GlobalData points to a slight improvement in the underlying trend. Analysts there say that the seasonally adjusted annualized rate of sales (SAAR) for the UK new car market was 1.6m units/year in July versus 1.5 units/year in June.

However, the UK car market running rate remains well below pre-pandemic levels (it reached 2.3m units in 2019).

Ongoing global supply chain issues, predominantly the lack of semiconductors, continued to frustrate order fulfilment last month, exacerbated by Covid lockdowns in key manufacturing and logistics centres in China, plus disruption from the war in Ukraine, all of which restricted production output and thus supply into the UK new car market.

Declines were driven primarily by an 18.2% fall in registrations by large fleets, to 50,014 units, while consumer registrations remained steady at 59,847 units. As a result, private registrations in the year to date are now 3.7% up on 2021 as manufacturers prioritise private customers.

Battery electric vehicle (BEV) uptake grew 9.9% to 12,243 units to achieve a 10.9% market share for the month. Although this is the weakest monthly uplift recorded by BEVs since the pandemic, overall growth in the year has reached 49.9% to deliver a 13.9% market share, illustrating the volatility in the supply chain. July was a weaker month for hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) uptake, with registrations falling -6.7% to take 12.2% of the market. Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) fell -34.0% which cut their market share to 5.8%.

The first half of the year has proved more challenging than anticipated, due mainly to the enduring severity and impact of the semiconductor shortage.

While the sector expects the second half to improve as supply issues start to recede, it is unlikely that the market will be able to recover the significant losses sustained so far. The outlook for the full year has therefore been revised downwards to 1.6 million new car registrations – a 2.8% fall on 2021, with the industry facing its most challenging year for three decades.

Around two million registrations have been lost since Covid, effectively representing a loss of a year’s registrations. Plug-in market share will continue to grow, however, to reach 22.6% as manufacturers prioritise investment in zero emission vehicle production.  

The SMMT also said the 2023 outlook has also been revised downwards since the April estimate. Although an improvement on 2022, new car sales next year are now forecast by SMMT at 1.89m (was 2.22m previously).

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said: “The automotive sector has had another tough month and is drawing on its fundamental resilience during a third consecutive challenging year as the squeeze on supply bedevils deliveries. While order books are strong, we need a healthy market to ensure the sector delivers the carbon savings government ambitions demand. The next Prime Minister must create the conditions for economic growth, restore consumer confidence and support the transition to zero emission mobility.”

Nissan Qashqai led the top model sellers list for July, but the Vauxhall Corsa is ahead for the year-to-date.