New car sales down for THIRD year running 2019

The third consecutive fall in new car registrations saw registrations fall in all but three months of 2019

Renault UK new car dealer

New car registrations fell for the third year running in 2019, with the market declining 2.4 percent to a seven-year low.

Official figures show 2.3 million cars were sold last year, compared to 2016’s all-time high of 2.69 million.

However, adds the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the 2019 total is still ahead of the UK’s 10-year average.

Every new car sector apart from two experienced sales declines. The exceptions were the dual purpose (SUV) sector, up 12 percent, and the specialist sports sector, up an eye-catching 19.2 percent.

The latter is due to the long-awaited arrival of the Tesla Model 3, which the SMMT classifies as a specialist sports vehicle.

The best-selling car types in the UK were superminis and family cars, which took 57 percent of new car sales – but both were down, by 6 percent and 4 percent respectively. 

Electric up, diesel down

Alternative fuel vehicles – that’s electric cars and hybrids – grew 20.6 percent, to take an overall market share of 7.4 percent. Hybrids made up 4.6 percent of that total, with electric cars on 1.6 percent.

Battery electric vehicles, adds the SMMT, overtook plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) for the first time. It blames this on the government’s controversial decision to pull PHEVs from the Plug-in Car Grant.

The launch of at least 23 new electric cars in 2020 is likely to continue the growth of EVs. 

And diesel? Sales fell a whopping 21.8 percent, giving it a 25 percent market share. This is the lowest diesel share since 2003, and means diesel car sales have basically halved since the peak three years ago.

Diesel new car sales have now fallen for 33 months running.

The decline of diesel is partly behind the worrying rise in new car CO2. It too has risen for the third consecutive year, to an average of 127.9 g/km.

SMMT chief executive said the introduction of the new WLTP test was the main reason for this (cars had to be retested to the tougher standards), although buyers shifting from hatchbacks to SUVs was also pushing up new car CO2.

By the end of 2020, EU legislation requires every car brand’s average new car CO2 to be no greater than 95 g/km, which is why the increase in new car emissions is so alarming to industry-watchers.

As for 2020, the SMMT expects new car registrations to fall again, due to an ongoing lack of consumer confidence.

The trade organisation expects 2.2 million cars to be sold this year, a fall of 1.6 percent on 2019’s figures. However, Hawes did admit this figure was modified upwards from an earlier prediction of 2.2 million, following December’s General Election.

If consumer confidence shows further positive improvement in 2020, the prediction could be modified once again. Whether or not Britain posts its fourth straight year of falling new car sales depends on it…

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Richard Aucock
Richard is director at Motoring Research. He has been with us since 2001, and has been a motoring journalist even longer. He won the IMCO Motoring Writer of the Future Award in 1996 and the acclaimed Sir William Lyons Award in 1998. Both awards are run by the Guild of Motoring Writers and Richard is currently chairman of the world's largest organisation for automotive media professionals. Richard is also a juror for World Car Awards and the UK juror for the AUTOBEST awards.


  1. Surely these things are cyclical? There has self-evidently been a splurge a while back for new cars … just look at the registration plates on the road … now people will hang on to them for a while so sale will of course dip.

  2. Nothing to do with the ever increasing prices then? prices forced upwards, partly because of monthly payments for contract schemes appearing to be affordable? Affordable to those on a monthly budget, with a 35 year mortgage and no savings for a deposit or good old fashioned cash outright purchase…. As soon as you cover its body with metallic paint, and put some wheels on it a GOLF is often north of £30,000. Thirty grand, and upwards of 45k for the R! For a GOLF!!! Mad, mad world.


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