Worst ‘new plate’ September on record for new car registrations

The UK’s new car market continues to suffer the effects of the pandemic, with new figures revealing September was the worst ‘plate change’ month for new car registrations on record.

Data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reveals that a total of 328,041 cars were registered throughout the month, down 15.8% on the 10-year average for September. This is the lowest figure recorded since the introduction in 1999 of the system by which the numberplate format changes every six months.

Although the 328,041 total represents a modest 4.4% decline year on year, last September was also hit hard, by delays in vehicle certification due to the introduction of the WLTP emissions testing regime.

Business demand was harder hit than private registrations, down 5.8% compared with 1.1%.

However, there is positive news when looking at registrations of battery electric vehicles (BEVs). Registrations for them have increased by 184.3% year on year, with September accounting for a third of all BEV registrations in 2020.

With 21,903 BEVs registered, this means that BEV and plug-in hybrid registrations combined took more than 10% of total registrations last month.

Since the lockdown restrictions were lifted in June, when many production lines also restarting, the market has gradually picked up. However, SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes states emphatically that this is “not a recovery”, as registrations are well below where they should be for September.

He said: “Despite the boost of a new registrations plate, new model introductions and attractive offers, this is still the poorest September since the two-plate system was introduced in 1999. Unless the pandemic is controlled and economy-wide consumer and business confidence rebuilt, the short-term future looks very challenging indeed.”

Alongside the pandemic, the SMMT lists further industry challenges, including the continued uncertainty over Brexit and the threat of EU tariffs; the increased investment to meet the shift towards zero-emissions vehicles; and the end of the government’s furlough scheme this month.

It’s believed that the latter will cause wider-scale unemployment across the automotive sector.

The SMMT now predicts that there will be an overall market decline of 30.6% at the end of 2020, equivalent to around £21.2 billion in lost sales. Around 615,000 registrations have been lost in 2020, it’s claimed.

Further trends, including the shrinking demand for diesel cars, have continued. Diesel accounted for just 22.2% of the market last month, with petrol accounting for 65%. The SMMT continues to separate out increasing mild-hybrid petrol and diesel registrations from this tally, however.

At a manufacturer level, the breakdown of figures also make interesting reading. The biggest winner over the month was MG, recording a huge 169% boost in registrations over September 2019. Audi recorded a 71.8% rise, while Volkswagen and Skoda were up 39.2% and 18.3% respectively. It’s thought that these strong Volkswagen Group figures are partly due to last year’s WLTP-related disruption, however.

Topping the list of poor performers was Alfa Romeo, down 33.8% year on year in September. Vauxhall, typically a strong performer, dropped 28.4%, while BMW was down 23.7% and Citroën was down 20.2%.



One suggested reason for the dramatic drops is a reduction in pre-registrations – cars registered to dealers before being sold to customers. This tactic has often been used to shore up registrations by manufacturers when required.