Registrations down for 2017

The UK new car market declined in 2017, with annual registrations falling for the first time in six years, according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

A -14.4% decline in December marked the ninth consecutive month of negative growth, resulting in a final annual tally of 2,540,617 units, a fall of -5.7%, but still the third highest level in a decade.

Private, fleet and business registrations were all down in 2017, with demand from private motorists declining -6.8%, while fleets saw a fall of -4.5%. The biggest percentage losses were seen in business registrations, with the sector ending the year down -7.8%.

The most popular vehicle choices were, once again, superminis, small family cars and SUVs (dual purpose), with the latter the only segment to grow demand in 2017. In fact, one in every five new cars sold in the UK is now dual purpose, up from one in 10 five years ago.

There was good news for the alternatively fuelled vehicle market, which grew 34.8%. A record number of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell cars were registered – resulting in the sector’s highest-ever annual market share of 4.7%.

Demand for petrol cars also rose in the year, but by a more modest 2.7%. However, this was not enough to offset a -17.1% decline in diesel registrations.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said, ‘The decline in the new car market is concerning but it’s important to remember demand remains at historically high levels. More than 2.5 million people drove away in a new car last year, benefitting from the latest, safest, cleanest and most fuel efficient technology.

‘2017 has undoubtedly been a very volatile year and the lacklustre economic growth means that we expect a further weakening in the market for 2018. The upside for consumers, however, is some very, very competitive deals.’

Simon Benson, head of motoring services at AA Cars, commented, ‘Those who’ve been watching the industry closely won’t be surprised by today’s data, but this doesn’t make the news any less of a cause for concern.

‘December marked the ninth month of falling registrations since the VED changes came into force in April. Perhaps more disconcertingly, 2017 denotes the first annual downturn in new car sales since 2011.

‘And with uncertainty still rocking the market, we don’t expect to see this trend reverse for some time yet.’