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Car market continues to decline in February

Date: 05 March 2020   |   Author: Illya Verpraet

Data from the SMMT shows that the new car market in the UK has shrunk again in February, by 2.9% year-on-year. 

The drop in car sales is due to falling demand from private buyers, as fleet sales remained constant, with 31 more fleet registrations than in 2019.

Fleet sales numbered 44,075, representing 55.4% of the market.

As is the trend, plug-in cars - both full electrics and plug-in hybrids - did quite well. Battery-electric cars sold almost two and a half times as well as in February last year, with 2508 registrations. That still only represents 3.2% of the total market. 

Plug-in hybrid (PHEV) registrations rose by 50%, to 2,058, which is slightly less than the number or electric cars registered, showing the impact of the plug-in car grant. Sales of full hybrids (i.e. non-plug-in hybrids) did well too, at 4,154 units, 72% more than last year. 

Sales of petrol and diesel cars predictably suffered. The SMMT's data separates petrol and diesel car registrations from registrations of mild hybrid cars. As the hybrid system in a mild hybrid has a fairly minimal impact on the way it drives or its efficiency, we've added them together. 

Counted in this way, 1,647 fewer petrol cars were sold than in February 2019, a drop of 3.1%. Petrol cars have a 64.7% market share. Diesels suffered a lot more, with almost 5,000 fewer cars sold, or 20% less. Diesels now represent just 24% of sales.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said, "Another month of decline for the new car market is especially concerning at a time when fleet renewal is so important in the fight against climate change. Next week's Budget is the Chancellor's opportunity to reverse this trend by restoring confidence to the market and showing that government is serious about delivering on its environmental ambitions. Industry has invested in the technology, with a huge influx of new zero- and ultra-low emission models coming to market in 2020, and we now need government to match this with a comprehensive package of incentives and infrastructure spending to accelerate demand. 

The SMMT is calling for the removal of VAT on battery electric cars to stimulate their uptake. However, it also says this must be part of a comprehensive package of incentives implemented alongside substantial investment in charging infrastructure to ensure a sustainable transition for consumers and businesses of all incomes, regions and lifestyles.