More than 2.6m cars were registered in the UK in 2015, the highest number ever recorded. The previous record was in 2003, when 2.58m were registered.
The exact figure is expected to be released later today, according to industry body the Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), with individual results for brands revealed at the same time. 2.6m registrations represents a year-on-year sales rise of around 6%, with fleet sales growth outstripping retail growth.
Results for the VW Group brands affected by the emissions scandals - Audi, Seat, Skoda and VW - are likely to come under particular scrutiny. However, Autocar has already published preliminary figures for all manufacturers.
Although Volkswagen’s market share shrunk slightly, it actually registered more new cars in the UK in 2015: 223,784, compared with 214,828 the previous year. Over the course of 2015 Volkswagen sold more new cars in the UK than in any previous year.
This could infer that it is still selling strongly in the private sector, indicating that the effect of the dieselgate scandal on customer confidence in the brand has been negligible.
It was a similar story at Audi. Its share of the market fell from 6.42% in 2014 to 6.33% this term. However, it registered 166,709 cars compared with 158,987 the previous year.
Seat fared less well, with its market share shrinking from 2.16% to 1.81%, and it also registered fewer new cars – 47,654 against 53,512 in 2014.
Skoda registered just 796 fewer cars in 2015 than it did the previous year, at 74,692, and its market share decreased from 3.05% to 2.84%.
The DS brand, recently spun off from Citroën, makes its first appearance on the sales charts. It registered 8614 new cars during 2015. That also accounts for a fall in market share for Citroën itself, from 3.37% in 2014 to 3.04% this year.
There was good news for fellow French manufacturer Renault, which registered 75,618 new cars compared with 66,334 and grew its market share by 0.19% to 2.87%. That's a four-year high for the company. Renault’s growth was driven by its success with the Clio hatchback, Captur crossover and Zoe electric vehicle. The Kadjar family crossover also contributed by bolstering the brand’s C-segment line-up. Renault’s competitively priced Dacia brand continued its steady growth.
BMW grew its market share by 0.35% to 6.36%, registering 167,391 new cars during the year. Fiat’s share of the market reduced by 0.27% to 2.44%. Ford also lost a little market share, down by 0.46% compared with 2014, but registered the most vehicles of any manufacturer, with a total of 335,267 new cars being added.
Land Rover posted a market share gain of 0.26%, and Jaguar went up by 0.17%, with the former registering 76,837 new cars and the latter 23,954 (up from 18,401).
Other star performers included Jeep, which grew its market share from 0.16% to 0.41% and registered 10,794 new vehicles, up from 3909 in 2014, and Mitsubishi. Boosted by the success of the Outlander PHEV, the latter’s market share was up by 0.22% to 0.86%.
Mercedes-Benz added half a percent to its market share and registered 145,254 new cars compared with 124,419 in 2014.
Buoyed by the new Fortwo and Forfour models, Smart almost doubled its market share from 0.18% to 0.32%. Ssangyong had a good year too, more than doubling the number of new cars registered and increased it’s market share from 0.06% to 0.13%.
According to Mike Hawes, chief executive of the SMMT, the record registrations were driven by mounting economic confidence in light of rising house prices, low unemployment, rising wages and low interest rates. He also pinpointed heavy discounts in the UK as a result of the strength of the pound against the Euro as a key influence, with manufacturers able to make greater profits or offer bigger discounts in the UK than elsewhere in Europe. He also highlighted the quality of the latest generation of cars in meeting buyer’s needs.
The fastest-growing sector measured by the SMMT was for alternatively-fuelled vehicles, which is made up of vehicles with hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric powertrains. The year-on-year registrations rise is expected to be confirmed at around 130%, with total registrations of 78,000 cars, of which 40,000 were hybrids. Registrations of electric cars rose by 40%. In total, alternatively fuelled vehicles accounted for just under 3% of total registrations, however.
“Electrified cars are still a nascent technology, but it’s clear that they are appealing increasingly to money-conscious buyers, many of whom might previously have considered diesels,” said Hawes.
However, diesel registrations still accounted for 48.5% of the total, compared to 48.2% being petrol-powered vehicles. Hawes underlined the continuing importance of diesel technology in helping meet emissions targets, and highlighted the continuing demand for diesel-powered cars even in the wake of the VW Group scandals.
“There’s no doubt there is mounting concern around air quality, but the diesel market has held up and it remains critical to the industry meeting its 2020 target of fleet average emissions of 95g/km,” said Hawes.
80% of retail sales were bought on finance, around 75% of which were registered through PCP schemes. “It’s clear UK buyers are far more inclined to buy on finance, and that is putting registrations on a firmer footing, as people replace cars every three to four years,” said Hawes. He also acknowledged the risk of the secondhand market being flooded with ex-lease vehicles as a result, damaging residual values and pushing lease costs up longer-term, but noted “the car companies have to manage that risk, and in 2015 all the evidence is that they have.”
The crossover segment was the fastest growing in terms of bodystyle, while 13.5% of all registrations were built in Britain.
Hawes also predicted that 2016 would likely match 2015’s registrations success. “We’ve had a record year, so it is now about predicting what the new normal is,” said Hawes, noting that the average number of registrations in recent years was around 2.3m vehicles. “There is expected to be an interest rate rise on the way, some political uncertainty from a referendum on Europe and we know that VED changes are coming in 2017. There are challenges the industry must face, but we expect the positives from 2015 to carry forward.”
Hawes added that the fallout from the VW Group scandals is likely to last for some time, both in terms of affected vehicles being fixed and the need for the industry as a whole to repair its reputation, starting with the implementation of more realistic test processes. “We know what we have is not fit for purpose, but ratification of a more realistic test process is around the corner,” he said.