New car sales fall to a 20-year low as Brexit and coronavirus hits consumer confidence

Published 05 October 2020

The UK new car market experienced its weakest September in 20-years, according to the latest industry figures. 

Data published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show that 328,041 new cars were registered in September, a figure that’s 4.4 per cent lower than the same month in 2019 and the worst on record for the month since the introduction of the dual number plate system in 1999.

Industry experts had hoped that the introduction of new models and the new 70-plate would have resulted in a spike in demand in September, but the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the end of the Government’s furlough scheme and question marks over the future of Brexit trade negotiations with the EU appear to have dented demand. 

The SMMT has warned that, unless the pandemic is controlled and economy-wide consumer confidence rebuilt, the new car industry is facing a devastating £21.2 billion loss. 

Car Prod

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: "During a torrid year, the automotive industry has demonstrated incredible resilience, but this is not a recovery.

"Despite the boost of a new registration 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."

Sales of new electric cars continued to grow, with registrations up 183 per cent on September 2019. This means pure electric vehicles now account for almost seven per cent of all new cars sold in the UK, a long way behind petrol (54 per cent) and diesel (14 per cent). 

New hybrid cars also experienced a notable uplift in sales. Mild hybrid petrol cars were up 143 per cent in September (77,423) while registrations of plug-in hybrid cars increased by 84 per cent with 42,277 new vehicles sold.


hissingsid    on 6 October 2020

As usual the industry blames everyone and everything except itself.

Car prices are too high because new cars are loaded with more and more "tech" which few owners want or need. Until the industry produces the cars which people want to buy, rather than the ones they think we ought to buy, the situation is unlikely to improve.

I bought my present car new in 2016 and have no plans to change it.

GTC20th    on 6 October 2020

Manufacturers need to realise that they can no longer dictate what cars they want us to buy. The time for large, heavy SUV cars is over. We need smaller, cheaper, reliable cars which do not need the pointless technology. They also need to do more to reduce EV prices, and focus on smaller engined vehicles with lower emissions. Unless they change what they produce and give us what we actually need they are in danger of disappearing.

pint6x    on 6 October 2020

Another reason for a decline in sales is that people aren't doing the mileage they used to. Since March I have worked from home and covered less than 1000 miles. Previously I would do at least that every month.

Cornish Jimbob    on 6 October 2020

It's impossible to buy a car at the moment as no dealers have any stock. In addition to this dealers are lazy, don't bother to call you back and aren't interested in getting you over the line. They have brought failure upon themselves.

pkt    on 6 October 2020

I drive a 1995 Audi A6 2.6 V6 auto I have owned the vehicle 7 years it is worth 4 time what I paid for it cheap classic car insurance only 10 left on the road in UK so gets a lot of looks Why would I want to buy a run of the mill tin box. Just to say look I have a new car on the drive

VINCENT MILLARD    on 7 October 2020

I drive a 1995 Audi A6 2.6 V6 auto I have owned the vehicle 7 years it is worth 4 time what I paid for it cheap classic car insurance only 10 left on the road in UK so gets a lot of looks Why would I want to buy a run of the mill tin box. Just to say look I have a new car on the drive

I think you might want a "Run of the Mill " Car after your Road Tax gets Hyped for the Emissions!

M gwynne    on 6 October 2020

I think cars to day are to dear for the working class and who can afford a electric car to get these new cars moving I think they will have to come out with a good deal

jchinuk    on 7 October 2020

That is an excellent point. Ford got the price down to sell the "£100 Ford", obviously a lot of buyers were amongst the worker's Ford employed (around Dagenham in those days).

A lot of the posts here seem to want to return to such 'basic' models, no doubt with a person walking in front with a red flag to solve unemployment too.

The modern car's electronic aids add little to the overall price, the main cost of any car is the assembly, that's why manufacturers are moving production to places like India.

Cars are more expensive because as a whole they are much better made.

VINCENT MILLARD    on 7 October 2020

I think cars to day are to dear for the working class and who can afford a electric car to get these new cars moving I think they will have to come out with a good deal

You can buy EVs for under £20,000.

The Battery Tech is about to hit a new Watershed as well.

I am a Retired Electronics & Electrical Engineer, so I read all the Dry boring stuff on the Tech. You should try it, very informative.

John of Gloster    on 6 October 2020

HJ's headline image in this article shows a line of new MGs.

~ I have only seen ONE 70-Plate new car ... my immediate next door neighbour has recently taken delivery of a blue MG ZS EV...

I have been almost amazed at the number of new Chinese SUV/Crossovers I've seen when out and about this year. Car trips far less frequent and few long ones so seeing so many New-ish MGs locally or f***her afield has been a surprise.

Would appear UK car consumers like 'em.

Modern cars maybe safer according to EU 5* Stats but those massively thick A-B and C Pillars on modern tin-ware mean much reduced all round vision which is dangerous ... to other road users hidden by those huge blind spots.

An earlier poster mentioned we need smaller and less complex cars.. DIY service user friendly even. My eight year old top spec MG is full of some useful gizmos ( and thicker, steeper ABC pillars which I do not like ) some gizmos which I have never used because I did not know they existed. Discovered them by accidental knob using.. there's so many of them.. Read the manual.. That would take a week .. :-).

Drove a friend's large SUV recently and the steeply raked windscreen and massively thick driver's side A Pillar covered a Motor Cyclist on his Harley Davidson completely.. Only my instinct saved what could have been a nasty incident.

Alan Massey    on 6 October 2020

UK car prices are far too high compared with other countries due to high taxation and dealers greed!
Look at all the new show rooms that have opened. Who is paying for them? Us, the consumers.
I would echo what other subscribers have written. We need a cheap reliable cars that are economic to run, service and use. I think the car industry has fallen into the trap of providing those things they can do rather than those things that need doing. Too much doggy tech. I enjoy driving still and don't need a driverless car to take me around.

TheNig    on 6 October 2020

All new car prices have JUMPED massively over the past couple of years,yes they have more tech but that cannot explain the increase. Bulk buy SAT NAV systems are less than £50, LED lights are buttons and the engine/wheel package are what they always were.
I do not remember a small petrol fiesta runaround being upwards of £14k Where have these prices come from?
I do appreciate that there are more safety features and they are really good cars but come on, £14k?
In my opinion they should be circa 25% cheaper. The case gets stronger for bigger cars as they are all more 30% dearer than they should be.
I do live in the real world but how are motoring reporters not commenting on the ridiculous state of vehicle pricing.
One more point, why is nobody shouting in respect of the missing spare wheel, I do accept that carrying it around for 15 years will burn a little more fuel and that manufacturers need to keep CO2 levels down but get stranded on a country lane after clipping a kerb or run over a nail etc etc. Not all of us live within the M25

   on 6 October 2020

When you see the Sunday Times cars of the year , with the exception of the puma there was nothing below £35000. Until car manufacturers and the govt and councils actually make a positive decision on ev and hybrids and the charging infrastructure . No one is going to rush out and buy a car just now. Also for many people a car is not a luxury but an essential because of the poor transport infrastructure. The pandemic would not stop me buying but future resale of my current car would. Added to congestion charges and closed off streets , the car is fast becoming a toy of the affluent where a congestion charge means nothing. People will actively avoid cities killing the high street and buy on line . Thanks to the city councils a family day out in town is becoming a thing of the past as it is so expensive now.

Ronald Blake    on 6 October 2020

Yes prices are too high. We Brits are always screwed, you only need to look up the USA prices to see how much. Several airfields are completely covered in unused 2019 built cars but there is no sign of price reductions. However for many of us the big problem is "what to choose" with the impending death of petrol and diesel in 2030. EV's are a NoNo with their ridiculous prices, unacceptable range, lack of charging places and the need to plan routes with a time-wasting stop for a re-charge. Add to that batteries degrade in time and their life is unknown. Make a bad choice now and it may be worthless in 2025 unless it can be sold to a museum!!

james04cooper    on 6 October 2020

Brexit huh? We're back to everything bad being due to Brexit. I expect more from 'honest' John.

aethelwulf    on 6 October 2020

Brexit huh? We're back to everything bad being due to Brexit. I expect more from 'honest' John.

You are spot on! Nothing to do with Brexit. It is the dithering of government decisions on car usage and the slavish following of any 'Green' issue that they can cling on to to get headlines.Nothing for the ordinary motorist who cannot afford Teslas etc. Get real and sell normal cars.

David Sneyd    on 6 October 2020

Is there any surprise that sales are down. Dealers have sold virtually nothing in 6 months and new prices are through the roof. I purchased a GR Sport Yaris hybrid on a 69 plate 12 months ago, the new Yaris that has been launched comes in at about £1000 below that for their Icon model (base model) , where before was about 4k lower for the Icon. Dealers need to do the deals to get new car sales going. At the end of the day they still make money from finance deals and also from selling their add ons! I can under stand that the manufactures are putting more into their new vehicles, better tech etc. but the price rises are not justified, tech is getting cheaper and interest rates are still low, dealers are not doing the enough and trying to be greedy.

Phian    on 6 October 2020

Dacias sell well although even they are more upmarket than when they first came to this country. The Ford Fiesta is now 19 inches longer than when introduced so is no longer anything like the basic original.
I wonder if a modern equivalent of the 2CV would find customers. Obviously modern safety standards would be necessary but a relatively stripped down model would be interesting. Sympathetic publicity, not Top Gear type mickey taking, would help create a decent image.
I can't really see any manufacturer having the courage to try this.

Ian Noble    on 6 October 2020

Ellon Musk recently announced Tesla’s goal to produce a EV at less than £30K. If it’s as good as the Model 3 it’s worth waiting for. Come on Jaguar, let’s see if you can match that!

Melvyn Griffin    on 6 October 2020

Well must agree with the comments on overpiced vehicles in particular suv models you have vastly overpriced electric or your stuck with diesel soon to be obsolete or thirsty petrol units(inc already out of date stopgap soft hybrids )how else can they use up those old engines! Lots of little used tech etc. Many people require simplicity ie safety -comfort and practical with low running costs and half decent residuals.In UK most would opt for usable kit ie htd seats man aircon transmission etc , not switch your devices on at home!Most of the cars on offer give gizmos and complex systems which past warranty are a nightmare guaranteed to scrap your car years before its time.Wake up smell the coffee look at previous best sellers mini -beetle -land rover plus many more. Needless to say modern pcp deals overly complex with some eye watering depreciation and rolling on ie refinancing when the balloon arrives. Unless your offsetting against tax a guaranteed loser of a deal! God give me some prozak I'm stressed!

aethelwulf    on 6 October 2020

Well, lots of sensible people out there reading the above. I run a 15 year old Mondeo 2L petrol Estate . Happy with it but VED £300, cheaper than a new car!. Also a 2010 Piccanto VED £30. So it averages out and depreciation about all gone. So why buy a new car that has many features that I do not want. I service/mend my own cars and do not want rubbish stop/ start crap. If I am stuck for a long tome I switch off. I am not brain dead at 73 you know, although clearly car designers are.
No new car for me then.

NEIL SCARLETT    on 6 October 2020

The oldest cars are the greenest cars.

RJP41    on 9 October 2020

I agree 100% you hear very little about overall emissions that includes making the car and dismantling it and sourcing the parts ,so the longer an old car is kept running the better .I Dont hear anyone talking about the pollution caused by electric vehicles the emissions are just moved to the power station and dont forget the batteries they use are mined from a limited source and are highly toxic not to mention the particulates from all car brakes and tyres and yes that includes electric vehicles ,the trouble is most people these days do not have much in the way of technical knowledge and are easily swayed by media and green extremists protesters etc I am all for being green and clean but common sense is needed .

Peter Axworthy    on 7 October 2020

Brexit has nothing to do with falling sales. Covid pandemic might help sales due to people not wanting to use public transport for the foreseable future.The truth is that most people who use public transport cannot afford a brand new car. Also London charges a driiver a levy to enter zones in the city while paying road Tax whatever the size of your engine. It will be coming to cities all over soon.
Many people at this moment in time are looking to upsize their home rather than buy a fossil fuel car knowing it won't be worth much in few years.They want bigger home to house their families of probable more lockdowns. Surveys now show that people would rather have a big garden for their children rather than a car in the driveway worth more than the house they live. BOB DYLAN once sang..The times they are a changing
Happy drive to you readers

A&k    on 7 October 2020

I tried to buy a bmw at the local dealer, cash sale, they were not interested. Pushed a personal contract deal that would have cost me a lot more and told me that ' I didn't understand' what a great deal it was. I would have been 7,000 pound worse off not including the final payment, and would not except no on a 700 pounds paint protection system that I did not want.
No better at the local subaru dealers. Two visits and no salesman free to see us. Two phone calls not even answered. Managed to book a test drive, arrived on day of test drive to find no salesman free and could not find Forester on site. Apparently manager using it.
No luck at kia dealership, ' excuse the mes' sales man is running the car at the moment.
Volvo had no salesman free, buy young man on parts/ service desk did try his best.
We have given up at the moment and might try again in the new year.
It is no wonder they struggle to sell cars if my experience is common.
I had a budget of 20,000 to 25,000 if that makes a difference.

simon witham    on 8 October 2020

I would like to say generally with all the comments of your readers comments below i would agree i have a 2015 model car and i was thinking of changing my car and i have been having a look around at all models yes i agree SUV everywhere and thirsty on petrol if you dont get a hybrid or mild hybrid but the differance in price is certainly in most cases 4-5 k more expsensive i dont think your going to save that much in £ in fuel maybe on average mileage £20-£30 per month which i agree is still some saving but i would work out the cost of ie hyundia i20 or a new i20 3 cylinder new hybrid 47 mpg or 54 mpg approx just a excample of what i have been considering.

I think with suv they might be worth looking at as a hybrid as they now average 50 mpg and you benefit from more space and road tax for these cars are hardly any different to the smaller cars now so i have considered this and i must agree with alot of the comments on heated seats and heated sterring wheels far to much radar as well the cars are getting to complicated and this is pushing up prices i think when i see p.c.p deals of £190, £254 month thats alot of money if you have a family to bring up people need sensible cars at prices 9 to 13k on average not 19k to 25k which i tend to see most of the car prices at far out of reach for average people i am a big fan of greener cars hybrids but they are far to expensive for most people and also alot of people are not earning what they were since we had the 2008 world recession this hit alot of buisneses and peoples income let alone the additional cronovirius financial world problems we are all now experiencing. I went to look at a Hyundia new i10 1.2 cc nearly £16 new really< ford fiesta how much ? even more should be basic affordable cars.

paul regan    on 8 October 2020

many years ago ford motor comp called the british isles treasure island because their cars sold here fetched the highest price in europe and we are still being treated as such they never lern!

gary bampkin    on 8 October 2020

I think the reason car prices have gone up so much is,lease prices..Reason is,eg..£50000 bmw m2 yours for £500 a month for £4500 deposit..A lot easier than trying to save for it..Manufacturers are laughing at us,as they know we want everything now,and if we had to finance it old school the finance would be crippling..So year after year,prices keep going up by the thousands,but in lease world it only means ten twenty or maybe £30 a month extra..So without leases,car sales will be even lower than HJ figures..Have a look on YouTube at,Its astonishing how low payments are for expensive metal is,if you do not believe me

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