UK new car registrations soar 674% as recovery continues in May

Strong business demand helped the UK car market to continue its recovery, with fleet sales accounting for more than half of the 156,737 new cars registered in May – but demand for vehicles was still down compared with the same period in 2019.

The 156,737 registrations last month marked a 674.1% rise from last May, when dealerships were shut due to the first lockdown and only a handful of sales were registered. The strong recovery came with showrooms now open following the most recent lockdown, but the sales total was still down 14.7% on May 2019 – and it was 13.2% lower than average May sales over the past decade.

Of those orders, 79,435 vehicles went to fleet buyers, representing 50.7% of the total. Fleet sales have now accounted for 53.7% of the 723,845 cars registered in the UK so far in 2021.

Battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) made up 8.4% of all new cars sales in May, with 13,120 registrations. That was down from 12.0% in May 2019, when the figure was boosted by EV firms such as Tesla continuing contactless deliveries. In the first five months of 2021, the 54,051 BEVs sold accounts for 7.5% of the market, compared with 4.3% in 2020.

SMMT boss Mike Hawes said: “With dealerships back open and a brighter, sunnier, economic outlook, May’s registrations are as good as could reasonably be expected. Increased business confidence is driving the recovery, something that needs to be maintained and translated in private consumer demand as the economy emerges from pandemic support measures.”

Petrol-engined cars remained the most popular choice, with pure-ICE or mild-hybrid examples making up 60.4% of registrations so far this year, down from 64.7% in 2021. Diesel continued to decline, with pure-ICE and-mild hybrid versions accounting for 18.0% of sales, down from 22.4% over the first five months of 2020.

The Volkswagen Golf was the most popular car among buyers in May, with 4181 sold. The Vauxhall Corsa was second for the month, with 3643 registrations, which means it remains the most popular car in the UK so far this year.

The British firm has sold 20,024 examples of the supermini in the first five months of 2021, comfortably clear of the Ford Fiesta (17,700 registrations), Mercedes-Benz A-Class (16,752) and Golf (14,979).