New car sales rebound with strong fleet demand, but still off pre-pandemic levels
04 June 2021
Author: Sean Keywood
The UK new car market continued its recovery in May, but remained below pre-pandemic levels, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
It said the 156,737 registrations seen last month was a 674.1% year-on-year increase - however, this comparison is of limited use as dealerships were shut 12 months ago due to Covid-19 lockdown measures.
Compared with May 2019, last month's figures were down by 14.7%, and they were also down 13.2% on the month's ten-year average,
The SMMT has also highlighted the relatively rapid year-on-year growth in fleet registrations, up by 1,094.9%, while private sales were up by 472.6%, although this is largely explained by fleet demand having been only just over half that of the private market in May 2020.
Fleet sales - classed as to those with 25 or more vehicles - took 50.7% of last month's overall market, while businesses with fewer than 25 vehicles accounted for another 2.2%.
The SMMT said the share of the market taken by pure EV registrations was down compared with May 2020, from 12% to 8.4%, but it attributed this to online orders favouring EVs last year.
Overall plug-in vehicles took 13.8% of last month's market, up from 7.2% a year earlier, with plug-in hybrids taking a 6.3% overall market share.
Petrol cars still accounted for by far the biggest market share, at 48.4%, and petrol mild hybrids took another 12%, while diesel cars made up just 9.9% of the market, with diesel mild hybrids taking another 6.8%.
Conventional hybrids made up 8.3% of registrations.
SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: "With dealerships back open and a brighter, sunnier, economic outlook, May's registrations are as good as could reasonably be expected.
"Increased business confidence is driving the recovery, something that needs to be maintained and translated in private consumer demand as the economy emerges from pandemic support measures.
"Demand for electrified vehicles is helping encourage people into showrooms, but for these technologies to surpass their fossil-fuelled equivalents, a long-term strategy for market transition and infrastructure investment is required."
Reacting to the figures, Lex Autolease electrification propositions lead Meryem Brassington said that while the continued growth in EV sales was encouraging, particularly given current supply chain production issues and recent grant changes, the overall market shortfall compared with 2019 was a concern.
She said: "There were more than 376,000 fewer new car registrations in the five months to May than in the same period of 2017. That's 376,000 cars on the road today that are older and less efficient.
"If replacement cycles are extended further by businesses reconsidering their fleet mileage as Zoom meetings replace face-to-face, this could seriously offset the gains made by the growth in EV adoption.
"As ever, the right infrastructure and fiscal incentives to drive EV adoption are crucial as we continue on the march towards net zero. Equally, it's just as important to create the conditions for a strong second-hand market to help drivers across the affordability spectrum make the leap from older, traditionally-fuelled vehicles to used EVs."