A record 2.69 million new cars were registered in 2016, surpassing 2015's record of 2.6m by 2.2%
Jim Holder
5 January 2017

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

Our Verdict

Ford Fiesta
Fiestas sold in Europe are ostensibly the same as those sold in America and Asia

The seventh-generation Ford Fiesta is the UK's best selling car, helped by frugal engines, handling verve and a big car feel

Join the debate

Comments
8

5 January 2017
I'm looking to change at the minute and the showrooms I visited had plenty of traffic on the days I was there. Audi were the busiest and backed that up by confidently offering well under book, BMW were busy too but offered the book price (interestingly the car I drove was just onto the lot that day and was sold that afternoon). VW were dead and were offering well over book. I appreciate that says more about the market in my area than nationally but it seems that popular cars in the right spec are moving.

Low interest rates are definitely drawing people out, it will be interesting to see how the second and third quarters pan out.

5 January 2017
Jon 1972 wrote:

...Audi were the busiest and backed that up by confidently offering well under book,....

how do you confidently offer well under book? can you give an example?

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

5 January 2017
xxxx wrote:

how do you confidently offer well under book? can you give an example?

Trade in value.

5 January 2017
[quote=Jon 1972]I'm looking to change at the minute and the showrooms I visited had plenty of traffic on the days I was there. Audi were the busiest and backed that up by confidently offering well under book, BMW were busy too but offered the book price (interestingly the car I drove was just onto the lot that day and was sold that afternoon). VW were dead and were offering well over book. I appreciate that says more about the market in my area than nationally but it seems that popular cars in the right spec are moving.

Low interest rates are definitely drawing people out, it will be interesting to see how the second and third quarters pan out.[/quote

No dealer will offer over book on a part exchange whatever it is, the extra money must be coming from somewhere else.

5 January 2017
Yep Diesel sales down throughout the year but the report fails to point out the massive fall in diesel sales in DECEMBER like for like. 6.7% down!
2016 will be known in the UK for the year Diesel thought it would be on top only for the crown to be take away.
Diesel - RIP (that's Rattle In Peace)

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

5 January 2017
But by less than the market as a whole, so their percentage fell. So perhaps not the disaster some might have predicted.
I think what's more concerning is, just where are we going to put these extra 2.7 million cars - because I'm pretty sure that less than 2.7 million were scrapped over the same period....

5 January 2017
Frightening the amount the growth of cars/people on the road. Peoples behaviour just gets worse because of it.
My diesel point is, especially regarding Dec 2016, is it's a downward trend that's accelerating.

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

6 January 2017
If there really is an environmental crisis which is partly due to cars, then allowing this rate of sales to continue would be appalling. The only way to improve cars from an environmental perspective is to increase their longevity, and to get more use from the cars which are already in existence.

The elimination of vehicle excise duty for cars over fifteen years old, and also providing those cars with free MOT repairs would encourage people with cars of that age to hold on to them. Such a policy would also encourage those with cars nearing that age to keep their cars longer and look after them better, cutting the demand for younger used cars, which would in turn discourage those with nearly new cars from changing through reduced trade-in values.

Lengthening the life of old cars is the only environmentally friendly option which exists.

I don't need to put my name here, it's on the left

 

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Lexus LC500
    Car review
    20 October 2017
    Futuristic Lexus LC coupé mixes the latest technology with an old-school atmospheric V8
  • Maserati Levante S GranSport
    First Drive
    20 October 2017
    Get ready to trade in your diesels: Maserati’s luxury SUV finally gets the engine it’s always needed
  • Jaguar XF Sportbrake TDV6
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    The handsome Jaguar XF Sportbrake exhibits all the hallmarks that makes the saloon great, and with the silky smooth diesel V6 makes it a compelling choice
  • Volkswagen T-Roc TDI
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    Volkswagen's new compact crossover has the looks, the engineering and the build quality to be a resounding success, but not with this diesel engine
  • BMW M550i
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    The all-paw M550i is a fast, effortless mile-muncher, but there's a reason why it won't be sold in the UK