UK car registrations hit a new record high of almost 2.7 million cars in 2016 - but experts are predicting that a combination of economic and political uncertainty will lead to a dip in registrations over the course of the coming year.
The 2016 figure - revealed this morning by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) - eclipses the previous record, set in 2015, of 2.6m cars by 2.2%. The record prior to the 2015 figure was in 2003, when 2.58m cars were registered.
Explaining the boom, SMMT chief executive Mark Hawes said: “Consumer confidence has remained strong despite a number of challenges for the industry, economy and politically, over the past year. That has combined with low interest rates and a raft of new model and new technology launches to deliver more choice of better vehicles than ever.”
However, Hawes warned that the market would likely dip by around 5-6% in 2017 as a result of uncertain trading conditions sparked by Brexit negotiations, wavering currency exchange rates, a likely interest rate rise and the impact of forthcoming VED changes, which will remove incentives to buy some low-emission cars and add significant tax to cars costing more than £40,000.
“Registrations of around 2.5m would still be extremely strong when put in context - we are not talking about a dramatic drop-off,” said Hawes. “The truth is there's a latent demand built up from 2011 after several tough years during the recession, and we expect that to lose some of its momentum in the year ahead.”
Sales growth was most profound in the supermini and crossover classes and in the premium sector, while sales of more traditional hatchbacks from mainstream manufacturers suffered the greatest drops. Although more diesel cars were registered than in 2015, the market share of diesels dropped away, largely replaced by sales of electrified vehicles. Sales of alternatively fuelled vehicles were up 22% year-on-year, giving the sector a 3.31% market share of all sales.
The Ford Fiesta maintained its considerable lead over all competitors in registration figures, and the rest of the UK's top ten remained unchanged.
The best-selling cars of 2016 were:
1 - Ford Fiesta - 120,525
2 - Vauxhall Corsa - 77,110
3 - Ford Focus - 70,545
4 - Volkswagen Golf - 69,492
5 - Nissan Qashqai - 62,682
6 - Vauxhall Astra - 60,719
7 - Volkswagen Polo - 54,448
8 - Mini - 48,328
9 - Mercedes-Benz C-Class - 44,184
10 - Audi A3 - 43,808
Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz all posted considerable gains across 2016, with 6.4%, 9.1% and 16.9% growth respectively, but other premium players like Jaguar and Land Rover, Lexus, Porsche and Volvo also grew considerably - 45.4%, 19.5%, 4.9%, 7.6% and 7.5%. Infiniti was the quickest-growing brand in terms of percentage, growing by 141.9% over 2015, with sales of popular-segment cars like the Q30 and QX30 bolstering growth. Its market share grew from 0.05% last year to 0.11% in 2016.
Mass-market manufacturers were buoyant across the year too; Honda, Hyundai, Kia and Renault grew by 10.7%, 4.9%, 13.9% and 12.5%; all bolstered by new or popular SUVs, while SUV-only brand Jeep grew by 30.5%.
The SMMT has previously warned that the loss of access to the free market in Europe as a result of Brexit could add around £1500 to the price of the average car. “Obviously we hope it won’t happen, but it is an indication of what’s at stake to the car industry and I think the government understands that,” said Hawes. “Such a price rise would have a profound impact, were it to come about.”
Sales for individual brands were also revealed today, but Autocar has already analysed sales by manufacturers using early registration data.
UK car sales 2007 - 2016
2007 - 2.4m
2008 - 2.1m
2009 - 2.0m
2010 - 2.0m
2011 - 1.9m
2012 - 2.0m
2013 - 2.3m
2014 - 2.5m
2015 - 2.6m
2016 - 2.7m