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The start point for the best source of fleet information


Date: 28 May 2014

With the economic recovery now seemingly well underway, the new car market was something of a barometer as to the state of the economy in 2013. Paul Barker takes a look tharough the official SMMT registration data

As they have all tended to be recently, it was a bit of a funny year for the new car registration market. 

As with the previous year, retail registrations showed stronger growth than the fleet sector, recording an increase of 15.6% compared with fleet's 5.7%, and although fleet still out-pointed retail overall, there were less than 10,000 units between them, and another year of similar growth will see retail become the dominant sector.

Fleet's share of registrations dropped from 50.2% to 47.9% with retail now at 47.5%, with the remaining share to business (sub-25 SME) sales. 

In 2013, a total of 2,264,737 new cars were registered, according to the official data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders, which was another 220,128 on top of 2012, or 603 more every day. 

"The best annual registration total since 2007 demonstrates there is confidence back in the market," SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes tells BusinessCar. "We're back at pre-recession levels and a level that is sustainable." 

As of the end of 2013, the new car registration figures had shown 22 consecutive months of growth. "Private sales reflect consumer confidence and fleet and business are definitely a reflection of economic and consumer confidence," continues Hawes. 

The brands

Looking at the manufacturers' league table, Ford once again leads the fleet market, although the gap back to arch-rival Vauxhall halved last year to a shade over 10,500 units as Vauxhall was slightly ahead of the market growth at 6.4% up on 2012, while Ford was one of only two top 10 fleet brands to record a fall in sales last year along with Peugeot. 

The only brand moving upwards within the top 10 was Mercedes-Benz, jumping a spot by passing Nissan, but both brands had a good year - 21.9% and 9.4% up respectively - and there are now less than 3000 units covering the two and Peugeot, with the French brand under real pressure of dropping down the table if the new 308 can't boost its fortunes this year. 

The premium brand battle is also narrowing, with Audi closing the gap to BMW by more than 2000 units last year, while fast-growing Mercedes is now 8000 units nearer the top premium brand spot than it was at the end of 2012, although still more than 20,000 registrations behind. 

On the slide

Further down the list, Kia slipped out of the top 10, with Citroen replacing it, and Skoda enjoyed a strong year, as did Honda and Volvo in the middle of the table.

Fiat's registrations were the most improved of the top 20, helped by the new 500L model, while Mazda had the best year of any manufacturer in fleet, recording a 60.2% growth on 2012 and moving up to the fringes of the top 20 thanks to much-improved new fleet-relevant product. 

Heading in the opposite direction was Mini, sliding three places down the table and showing a result of nearly 10% down on 2012 due at least in part to its core hatchback being due for imminent replacement.

Chevrolet, Alfa Romeo and Smart showed the most extreme falls in volumes, all losing at least a third of their fleet figures compared with 2012. 


Hot models

The Ford Focus is once more the UK's favourite fleet car, but Ford's comparative fleet struggles in volume terms saw the Vauxhall Astra close the gap from 15,659 to 5631 registrations.

Volkswagen's Golf, fresh with a new model early last year that was recently crowned Business Car of the Year,  hopped up to the third step on the podium from fifth place in 2012, just ahead of the Ford Fiesta. 

BMW's 1-series beat the Audi A3 for fleet registrations for the first time, also debuting in the top 10 fleet models as a result, while the other new premium hatchbacks also fared well, with Mercedes' A-class making its first appearance in the top 50 fleet models since its predecessor in 2010, coming into 36th place.

Volvo's new baby V40 did even better, though, entering the table at number 31 and instantly becoming Volvo's top-selling fleet model in its first year of sales. 

Mercedes' good form continued in the executive segment, where strong growth from the E-class, facelifted last year, made it the most registered executive model in fleet, passing the BMW 5-series. However, Mercedes' SMMT figures do include the Coupe and Cabriolet models, whereas the BMW 6-series is a separate model line that would have added nearly another 1000 units. Not enough to catch the Merc, though.  

Other new models on the rise in their first full year of sales included the Peugeot 208 and Ford B-max, while in its final year before being replaced by an all-new model this month, Nissan's Qashqai actually enjoyed its best ever year of fleet registrations.

While that will in part have been driven by Motability, which falls into the fleet section of classification, it's still impressive when compared with most cars where the volume curve fades away as the car ages. 

Also making their first appearance in our top 50 chart were the Ford Kuga and Volkswagen Tiguan, helping the Qashqai illustrate the growth of crossover and small 4x4 vehicles, while the Renault Clio and Toyota Auris returned to the top 50 fleet sales. 

Heading out of the table to make way for these new arrivals were the Vauxhall Meriva, the now-replaced Peugeot 207, Toyota's Avensis, the Nissan Note, Renault Megane and Ford S-max.


Pumping it

The 2013 SMMT figures also showed the gap closing between petrol and diesel, driven at least in part by the strength of the city car and supermini segments, where diesel isn't worth the premium over petrol for the lower mileages generally covered.

While diesel took 49.6% of the market, down from 50.8%, petrol's share bounced back up one percentage point to 48.8%.

The move to smaller vehicles can be illustrated by the former fleet mainstays of Ford Mondeo and VW Passat sliding down to rank only 16 and 20 in fleet sales, although both are showing their age now. However, the Vauxhall Insignia maintained its place in the top 10 despite an 8.0% fall in registrations across a 12 months where the facelifted model arrived in the UK.

Alternative fuels - hybrid and plug-in models - enjoyed another year of steadily increasing registrations, with growth of 17.6% to 32,731 vehicles across fleet, business and retail sales.

Plug-in hybrids, range-extenders and pure-electric vehicles accounted for 11% of that total, compared with 4.5% of alternatively fuelled vehicles in 2012. "There is growing interest across private and fleet in newer technology," says the SMMT's Hawes.


Looking ahead

Despite the improvement last year, Hawes feels the fleet sector is one with room to grow. "Fleet and business is a reflection of business confidence, and the depth of recession means that it needs time to recover," he says, pinpointing larger fleets as a key area of potential growth.

The SMMT is predicting very modest growth overall for 2014, "a stable, slightly up market, maybe 1% but not the 10% growth of last year," says the SMMT's chief exec.

There is an overall impetus behind the automotive industry. We've had 22 months of increasing sales in passenger cars," concludes Hawes. "There will be some challenges, but every time you pick up a paper the news seems to be good. Growth is happening, economic confidence is returning."