Vauxhall car dealerNew car registrations plunged 9.3 percent in September 2017 as car buyer confidence fell due to economic concerns, Brexit and confusion over the threat of possible air quality taxes on diesel cars.

It’s the first time September figures have fallen in six years.

The slowdown is particularly worrying as September is one of the most important months of the year for new car sales. It seems even the introduction of the new 67-plate registration hasn’t encouraged new car buyers into showrooms.

The latest figures means it’s likely full-year numbers will show the first overall decline in UK new car sales since back in 2011. Year-to-date, 2.06 million cars have been registered in Britain, compared to 2.15 million in 2016. 

That’s a 3.9 percent year-to-date decline.

‘Considerable concern’

“September is always a barometer of the health of the UK new car market so this decline will cause considerable concern,” said Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) chief executive Mike Hawes.

“Business and political uncertainty is reducing buyer confidence, with consumers and businesses more likely to delay big ticket purchases. The confusion surrounding air quality plans has not helped, but consumers should be reassured that all the new diesel and petrol models on the market will not face any bands or additional charges.”

Diesel car registrations plunged 21.7 percent in September, as buyers switch to both petrol cars and alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs). Petrol sales were down just 1.2 percent, while AFV registrations shot up 41 percent, from 16,052 cars in 2016 to 22,628 models this year.

New car scrappage schemes, many of which are encouraging buyers into cleaner, greener cars, may partly be behind this. Hawes added that scrappage schemes are at least helping to stem the decline in new cars sales and “such schemes are to be encouraged given fleet renewal is the best way to address environmental issues in our towns and cities”. 

The decline in British new car sales will be a concern for car manufacturers because the UK is Europe’s second-largest new car market, behind Germany. As the rest of the EU slumped, British sales remained strong; it now seems as if a sales slowdown is finally here. 

Best selling cars: September 2017

Nissan Qashqai

There was at least cheer for Nissan, whose British-built Qasqhai emerged as the best-selling car in Britain – beating the second-placed Volkswagen Golf by a clear margin.

The lengthy roll-out of the new Ford Fiesta has relegated the traditional British best-seller to third place, though – barely ahead of the Ford Focus. The Vauxhall Corsa was in fifth place but once again, the British-Built Vauxhall Astra does not appear in the UK top 10.

Mercedes-Benz enjoyed a premium-brand double-entry in the UK top 10, while the Volkswagen Polo still performed well in sixth place despite itself going through a model changeover cycle.

There were some striking declines in particular market sectors too – British car buyers bought 21.2 percent fewer superminis (although it’s still the UK’s favourite type of new car) and high-margin luxury saloon sales were down a hefty 36.4 percent. Fleets bought 10.1 percent fewer cars and private sales were down 8.8 percent.

1: Nissan Qashqai

2: Volkswagen Golf

3: Ford Fiesta

4: Ford Focus

5: Vauxhall Corsa

6: Volkswagen Polo

7: Mini

8: Nissan Juke

9: Mercedes-Benz A-Class

10: Mercedes-Benz C-Class