New car registrations down 5.8% in August

July's 11% rebound couldn't be replicated last month, though private sales in August were down just 699 units over 2019

August saw a 5.8 per cent dip in the number of new cars registered in the UK, following July's 11 per cent surge as buyers returned to lockdown following months of dealership closures. A total of 87,226 new cars were registered last month, down from 92,573 in August 2019.

Year-to-date registrations remain worryingly down, at negative 39.7 per cent, with over 600,000 fewer cars finding homes so far this year compared to the same point in 2019. Dealerships were closed between 23 March and 1 June, though, a 70-day duration, or 19 per cent of the year; with the online-only car-sales model not fully mature, this fall will not come as a surprise to those in the industry.

Private sales were relatively robust with 39,833 new cars finding homes, down just 699 units, or 1.7 per cent, over the same month last year. The Ford Fiesta remains the UK's best-selling car, both in August and year-to-date, with the Volkswagen Golf and the Ford Focus being the second and third most registered cars in August, and the new Ford Puma also proving popular, finishing fourth in the sales chart.

But while robust private sales may indicate consumer confidence is returning to comparable levels to 2019 in some regards, the same cannot be said of fleet and business buyers, who respectively registered 5.5 and 57.9 per cent fewer new cars last month - though business purchases, defined as small fleets of under 24 cars, make up a tiny proportion of the market, being responsible for just 3,448 registrations in August 2019, and 1,450 last month. Fleet sales were down to from 48,593 to 45,943.

Electric cars, once again, were clear winners in last month's figures, with sales up 77.6 per cent thanks to 5,589 registrations, and the sector account for 6.4 per cent of overall sales so far this year. Sales of plug-in hybrids more than trebled compared to 2019, with 2,922 registered in August - though this accounts for 3.3 per cent of the market.

Petrol (14.7 per cent down) and diesel (39.5 per cent down) cars suffered the most, while conventional hybrids, such as the Toyota Prius, saw a 6.4 per cent rise in popularity, their 5,542 registrations making up 4.3 per cent of August's market.

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), called last month's figures "disappointing", adding: "However, given August is typically one the new car market’s quietest months, it’s important not to draw too many conclusions from these figures alone. With the all-important plate change month just around the corner, September is likely to provide a better barometer. As the nation takes steps to return to normality, protecting consumer confidence will be critical to driving a recovery.”

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