Can you trust UK new car sales figures?

Credits: Pete Gibson
13 Jan, 2016 2:00pm Joe Finnerty

New car registrations hit record high in 2015 but do car makers actually sell as many cars as they claim?

Up to 15 per cent of new car registrations could be pre-registered, leaving thousands of unsold motors sitting on forecourts and skewing industry figures.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) revealed 2015 was the best ever year for sales with 2.63 million cars registered but an Auto Express study suggests dealers are pre-registering cars at record levels to hit targets.

Best selling cars 2015: a record year for new car sales

What is pre-registering?

Pre-registering involves a dealership buying new cars from the manufacturer and registering them to itself, making them the first owner. The car already has a number plate and is sat on a forecourt. It'll have just a handful of miles on the clock and will be on sale for a fraction of a new car price.

Our investigation highlighted the vast number of 2015 model cars on offer on manufacturers' approved used schemes with limited mileage.

Mazda forecourt image

Ford - the UK's biggest selling brand, registering 335,267 in 2015 - had hundreds of its popular Fiesta and Focus models for sale with just 25 miles chalked up. As did Volkswagen for the Polo and Golf.

Vauxhall - the second largest seller in the UK - had more than 400 Corsas and 200 Astras for sale with just a few miles on the odometer.

• UK diesel and petrol prices: everything you need to know

What do manufacturers and the wider industry say?

A Ford spokesman said its cars were former staff vehicles and models that were damaged between factory and dealer but also admitted to including "cars which are pre-registered and sold as used by Ford-owned dealers in support of their retail activities".

Some of the car brands that improved most in the 2015 car sales tables also had a high number of 2015 models available. Mercedes, which has shown 16 per cent growth over the past 12 months had hundreds of A, C and E-Class models available, while Renault - sales up 14 per cent - had hundreds of Clios and Capturs.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, admitted it wasn't a new tactic, either. "This is something that has always happened," he said. "Any manufacturer will have a volume target to reach and they have a variety of channels at their disposal to hit those volumes."

• Far eastern brands top new car reliability ratings

There's also an impact to the consumer. Pre-registered cars come with many benefits of buying new but for a fraction of the price. Philip Nothard, retail and consumer specialist at CAP, explained: "While manufacturers fight shy of reporting figures officially, dealers know they can use these vehicles to create attractive deals.

"Large volumes of pre-registered cars can put pressure on the nearly new market yet a savvy dealer will manage this to differentiate the offers and hit their targets."

What do you think of the practice of pre-registering cars? Join the debate in the comments section below...