New car sales slump: Brexit and diesel uncertainty blamed

Published 04 April 2019

The number of new cars registered in the UK last month fell by 3.4 per cent - with experts blaming uncertainty around Brexit and diesel car legislation.

The figures released this morning by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders cover the month of March - when number plates change in the UK - and are seen as a key barometer of consumer confidence and the wider economy.

Demand from private buyers was down by 2.8 per cent, while the business sector saw a huge drop of 44.8 per cent. In total, 458,054 cars were registered in March 2019.

Almost every type of vehicle saw a drop in registrations, apart from small hatchbacks - which saw a rise in popularity by 4.3 per cent, taking a third of all registrations.

Recent months have seen sales of new diesel cars falling as this has continued, with new diesel registrations down 21.4 per cent. Demand for petrols grew by 5.1 per cent, while alternatively-fuelled cars (including electric vehicles) increased by 7.6 per cent.

"March typically sees buyers rushing to dealerships to snag themselves cars with the latest plates so these subdued figures are somewhat surprising," said James Fairclough, CEO of AA Cars.

"The stark truth is that the uncertainty in Westminster continues to set the tone for consumer confidence across the country - and with little clarity on what's happening over the next couple of weeks, buyers are being decidedly cautious in paying for big ticket items."

Some of the biggest car manufacturers were hit hardest last month - with registrations of new Ford vehicles down by nearly 19 per cent, while Audi sales were down by more than 6 per cent. It's not all bad news, though - budget brand Dacia saw a rise of 85 per cent, while MG saw demand grow by nearly 63 per cent with 1814 registrations.


hissingsid    on 4 April 2019

The 85% rise in Dacia sales proves that there is a significant demand for simple low tech cars, without all the complicated electronic gadgetry that many people do not want or need.

Having said that, I do wish that Dacia would offer the option of automatic transmission, although this is unlikely as it would probably reduce the sales of their parent company Renault.

Arminius JP    on 4 April 2019

New car sales figures for March revealed a heavy 7.1% decline in overall sales relative to March 2018, with first quarter sales also the lowest since 2014, in Australia. The reach of Brexit is further than might have been supposed!

gavsmit    on 5 April 2019

When greedy manufacturers are charging over £20,000 for their mainstream superminis, that aren't even sports models (they cost even more), then maybe they've finally exceeded what they can get away with.

Obscene car price inflation in recent years, hidden behind things like finance deals that quote monthly costs that gullible people accept as ok, has gone completely bonkers so people can't afford new cars any more.

With manufacturers already tee-ing up the BREXIT excuse (a global lack of demand in places like China is more to blame than BREXIT) for increasing their prices by a further 20% (e.g. Peugeot), they can expect even less sales.

I agree with the above comment about the need for simple, no-nonsense cars being stronger than ever, but it's just a shame that someone like Hyundai or Toyota isn't building them (I've had very bad experiences with Renault engineering).

Ol King Kong    on 9 April 2019

I agree with gav; Cars come loaded with all kinds of gubbins that the public don't want, especially the mandated EU requirements. So long as the car has a bit of oomph and a decent radio I can live without the rest.

pint6x    on 8 April 2019

I'n not sure the finger of blame is being pointed at Brexit voters, more the uncertainty that's going on in our increasingly dysfunctional, unfit-for-purpose and self-destructing government.

People don't know what's going to happen. Will it be scrap article 50, will it be No-deal Brexit, will it be Brexit but remain in customs union, will it be Brexit with Norway or Canada style deal. The fact is, absolutely any scenario could play out, and with the uncertainty over what that will be - will things suddenly be a lot more expensive, do we need to stockpile, will the cost of energy increase a lot?

Not even Mother Theresa knows what is going to play out, so companies don't know how to prepare, will their just-in-time strategies still work when parts cross the channel multiple times during construction, will their raw materials go up, will they get bogged down in customs etc.

No one knows, so no one's spending money. Also, I agree it is unrealistic to expect car sales to increase every year - why should they? I'm sure we reached 'peak car' some time back.

Edited by pint6x on 08/04/2019 at 13:53

   on 8 April 2019

Is it any wonder the public are not buying. Dieselgate and the poor infratructure for electric . Can`t sell the electric argument because it`s not there yet for the average purchaser. Hybrids perhaps , only if you do the right journey mix to make sense , otherwise expensive. Confused . whatever. ! And I `m interested.

WSM    on 8 April 2019

I thought Dacia started offering automatics in 2015 - I saw a Duster for sale with auto recently in Spain. Maybe it just applies to the UK?

Bryan Davis    on 8 April 2019

It is odd though that with decreased demand for diesel the price has kept rising and not fallen?

Paul Chapman    on 8 April 2019

I am up for buying a new car right now..but I am hesitating only because I dont know whether to buy petrol or diesel.

Until such time as politicians make up their mind and I know what's going to happen, I will just wait.

Cars dont rust now so there is no hurry. Might even wait until plug in hybrids improve to give a half decent range on one charge.

Brexit? Dont thinks so, unless all this anti-diesel propaganda ends after we leave the EU.

aethelwulf    on 8 April 2019

My view is that prices have risen to unacceptable levels .Even KIA are now trying it on so much that I would not touch one. My Piccanto 1 was £6200 brand new in 2010 with no extras of course but a 7 year warranty. I still have it and will be keeping it for years with the cost of a new one heading for £10,000. Mad?

Ray Ziepe    on 8 April 2019

Amazes me that Brexit is given as a cause for slow down in Sales and is an inappropriate excuse used by some to make political capital!
Ever since they demonised Diesel, sales have dropped off as people right at this moment are looking to hedge there bets by investing in the next generation technology and it’s not petrol power either which is the next fossil fuel Target. Unfortunately electric cars are at an early stage relatively with range and charging infrastructure lacking and whilst they may meet some motorists needs at the moment, they’re a risk for the carbuyers pocket as nobody knows whether they’re buying technology that’ll be obsolete in very quick time and just like a mobile phone whether they’re have any value as the next new model arrives, with improved features and battery range or in fact whether the hydrogen or electric debate turns into a VHS or Betamax type battle that makes one of them obsolete and worthless. So what to do, maybe buying a hybrid as more models appear but many of those are in the build pipeline and won’t solve the here and now, therefore the manufacturers will have to heavily discount there existing stock to move it and provide a reward for people taking a risk with the demonised technology now unloved by governments (except as a cash cow) and offer a brand loyalty incentive to trade up to the next technology at a manageable price point. Doing so might remove some confusion in the market and provide some with the confidence to purchase a new car again...ahh but which, petrol, diesel, hybrid, electric or hydrogen, there lies the question.

Michael Topping    on 9 April 2019

My Ford Focus Mk1 Auto with 42K on it is still like brand new. I only do 3K miles a year. It is cheap to repair, (not that I have had to ) it does everything I want from a Car.
I have been put of changing by the eye watering cost of buying, and depreciation.
At one time the visit to a dealership was time for a good haggle. But now if you step onto a forcoat to have a browse within seconds you are surrounded by hunger young men pestering you to buy at the drop of a hat. As the prices offered for a partechange are so poor ass to be insulting. The trade has no outlet other than Auction for cars over 4 years old.
So I'll keep my trusty Ford focus until something terminal crops up thank you.

Keith Moat    on 9 April 2019

As some have said above, it's not whether we are staying in or going out of the EU that's the problem, it's the uncertainty caused by this government delaying the decision and complicating things with these so called deals. It doesn't help that the government also messed up the VED system, making it more complicated and increasing VED on low polluting vehicles. I bought my Prius in 2016 and the VED is £0 per annum. I would normally be looking to buy another now it's 3 years old but now a new model of the same car would cost me £130 per year VED, where's the incentive for me to buy a new one ?

DrTeeth    on 9 April 2019

I have an 11 year old Merc 320 CDi, the updated V6 version. I have had it remapped and it goes like the proverbial off a shovel. Had a lot of expense this time around, but it owes me nothing and I save all the money I would spend on a new car. Keeping it until it conks out. Indecent fuel economy on a *brisk* motorway run...>40 mpg. No DPF natch.

Derreck    on 10 April 2019

Proposed car speed limiters & associated black boxes in 2022 can only be detrimental to car sales. I personally was in the market for a new high performance German coupe but have now decided there is no point as in less than 5 years time it would need to be retro-fit with a speed governor & spy in the cab (wonder if the EU have considered the consequence of their actions as in my case Porsche have just lost a £60K sale)..

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