New car sales 2019: March sees registrations fall in “key barometer” month

Some 3.4 per cent fewer new cars were registered in March 2019 compared to last year; business sales tumble by 44.8 per cent

The number of new cars registered in March 2019 dropped by 3.4 per cent compared to the same period last year, with industry chiefs warning March’s number-plate change makes the month a “key barometer” for industry health. Some 458,054 new cars were registered last month, down from 474,069 in March 2018.

As well as an overall picture of gloom, delving further into the figures reveals concerning individual pockets of worry. Sales to businesses – companies running up to 24 vehicles – collapsed by 44.8 per cent, from 22,932 registrations in March 2018, to 12,651 last month.

• UK automotive firms warn of no-deal Brexit catastrophe

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) highlights that business sales make up a small proportion of overall vehicle sales, but such companies are more likely to be exposed to market uncertainties relating to Brexit and diesel. The relatively small and agile nature of business buyers also means they may be able to easily hold back purchasing decisions.

Diesel continues to fall out of favour with new-car buyers, evidenced by a 21.4 per cent market decline last month. Sales of petrol cars were up 5.1 per cent, though, while alternatively fuelled vehicles rose by 7.6 per cent in popularity, with 25,302 such cars registered.

March’s figures cast a shadow on February new-car registrations, which were up 1.4 per cent following five consecutive months of decline. 

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the SMMT, called March a “key barometer for the new car market” and said the 3,4 per cent decline “is of clear concern.”

Hawes called on government to develop “supportive policies, not least on vehicle taxation and incentives, to give buyers the confidence to invest in the new car that best meets their driving needs.”

“Above all”, he continued, “we urgently need an end to the political and economic uncertainty by removing permanently the threat of a ‘no deal’ Brexit and agreeing a future relationship that avoids any additional friction that would increase costs and hence prices.”

Click here to find out which car brands were the winners and losers in 2018…