A jump in alternative fuel vehicle sales (AFVs) could not prevent the overall number of cars sold declining 9.3% year-on-year to 426,170 in September, according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
Diesel was the main culprit for the drop, with 21.7% fewer registrations than the same month last year, while petrol sales remained relatively stable, falling just 1.2%. In contrast, AFV sales jumped 41%.
Year-to-date numbers for overall registrations showed a slowdown, falling 3.9%. Again, diesel was the most badly hit with 13.7% less sales, while petrol car sales actually grew 3.0%. Here as well, AFVs showed a boom, rising 34.6%. 2017 year-to-date AFV sales have now surpassed the total number of AFVs sold in 2016, and are well on track to hit 100,000.
National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA) director Sue Robinson said: “September saw the new car market reach a near record total of 2,066,411 vehicles registered in the year to date. The figures are down 3.9% year on year as a result of the record September in 2016, however the 2017 new car market still remains at historically high levels.
“Consumers walking into the showroom need more clarity on issues such as diesel and air quality. [They] also need to feel confident in the economy when embarking on high value items such as motor vehicles.
“On a positive note, the used car market has shown incredible signs of resilience which can partly offset the current decline in new car sales.”
Chris Bosworth, director of strategy at Close Brothers Motor Finance, said: “Today’s figures mark the seventh consecutive month of decreases in new car sales. [It] appears that the motor industry is struggling to shake off the impact that Brexit uncertainty is having on consumer spending.
“We are already seeing the consequences of the weak pound on UK manufacturers’ profit margins, and this has made it difficult for dealers to offer customer deals, especially the 0% finance offers which would have been abundant in previous years.
“[The 2040 polluting fuels ban] is one of the most radical government policies affecting the automotive sector in recent memory, and the shake up is having an effect. Buying behaviour towards fossil fuel cars is changing as motorists lean towards leasing deals rather than purchasing the vehicle outright.”
Richard Jones, managing director at Black Horse, part of the Lloyds group, said: “With the new 67-plates now available, September was an important month for the industry and today’s figures reflect the general slowdown across the market.
“The ongoing action from manufacturers around scrappage schemes and the broader discussion around fuel technology might well have impacted on the numbers given that we saw a continued fall in sales of diesel cars, although it is positive to see these reductions counterbalanced somewhat by the growth of both petrol and alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs).”