Currently reading: UK new car registrations rise for the first time in 2020
Pent-up demand lifts registrations 11.3% year on year in July, following four months of declines

New figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show an 11.3% year-on-year rise in new car registrations in July following a four-month downward trend.

The uptick is the first time registrations have climbed since December last year and comes in the wake of the pandemic-induced shutdown, during which car sales effectively ceased. 

Some 174,887 new cars were registered last month, roughly 30,000 more than in June and 170,000 more than in April, when lockdown prevented factories and dealerships from opening. However, overall sales figures for 2020 are expected to clearly show the impact of the pandemic, with registrations predicted to be down roughly 30%. 

For the year to date, registrations are down 41.9% - or 598,054 units - compared with the first seven months of 2019. The SMMT estimates that the sector will record a sales loss worth £20 billion this year. 

Showrooms were given the green light to reopen in June, allowing them to start shifting stock for the first time in more than two months. Before that, only limited trade was possible on a click-and-collect basis. 

Private car sales recorded a significant 20.4% increase in July, which the SMMT attributes to consumers being able to belatedly change into a new car and taking advantage of various manufacturer-backed incentive schemes. Although fleet sales recorded a more modest 5.2% increase, they still account for just over half of the market. 

Sales of pure-electric cars climbed 259.4% and plug-in hybrids 320.3%, giving electrified cars a 9.0% market share last month. Elsewhere, sales of petrol-powered cars rose by just 0.3% and diesel sales fell for another month, recording a 25.9% drop. 

With superminis and small family cars remaining the two most popular vehicle categories, the Ford Fiesta and Focus continue to hold the first and second spot respectively in the best-selling models list, followed by the Vauxhall Corsa, Volkswagen Golf, Nissan Qashqai and Mercedes-Benz A-Class. 

Commenting on the figures, Rachael Prasher, managing director of Autocar sibling title What Car? told the BBC: "This is very welcome news to the UK's automotive sector and a testament to all the hard work put in to kickstart the industry by dealers and manufacturers as lockdown eased.

"After nearly three months of closed doors, it is great that the industry has demonstrated it remains so robust. However, with this month's success driven largely as a result of pent-up demand and lease cycles, there is still much hard work to do ahead."

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes also welcomed the news: "July’s figures are positive, with a boost from demand pent up from earlier in the year and some attractive offers, meaning there are some very good deals to be had. We must be cautious, however, as showrooms have only just fully reopened nationwide and there is still much uncertainty about the future.

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"By the end of September we should have a clearer picture of whether or not this is a long-term trend. Although this month’s figures provide hope, the market remains fragile in the face of possible future spikes and localised lockdowns as well as, sadly, probable job losses across the economy. The next few weeks will be crucial in showing whether or not we are on the road to recovery."

Read more

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Analysis: Are car sales bouncing back?

SMMT boss: 11,000 UK automotive job losses “the tip of the iceberg​"

Felix Page

Felix Page
Title: News and features editor

Felix is Autocar's news editor, responsible for leading the brand's agenda-shaping coverage across all facets of the global automotive industry - both in print and online.

He has interviewed the most powerful and widely respected people in motoring, covered the reveals and launches of today's most important cars, and broken some of the biggest automotive stories of the last few years. 

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jagdavey 5 August 2020

I bet the EU are relieved that the Brits are buying again!!!!!

The EU manufacturers must be over excited that the British are buying their cars again!

405line 5 August 2020

A lot of these people

who bought a new car before the pandemic must surely be thinking what have I done?, will I have a job or an income for the duration of the payback period, will my company survive? Some of the companies that ordered these company vehicles must be thinking the same thing. It would be naive to think otherwise.

Bimfan 5 August 2020

The new car market seems

The new car market seems pretty robust overall. 

I am currently worried though that possible EU tariffs will raise prices of many brands next year, so I am getting my order in now. Some others may be thinking the same, hence the next few months could see higher than normal sales anyway.

scotty5 5 August 2020

Pay no attention to the experts.

Bimfan wrote:

The new car market seems pretty robust overall. 

I am currently worried though that possible EU tariffs will raise prices of many brands next year, so I am getting my order in now. Some others may be thinking the same, hence the next few months could see higher than normal sales anyway.

No, no, no, no.   You've not been reading Autocar or listening to Mike Hawes from SMMT. We're not buying cars anymore, we're waiting until the uncertainty of Brexit is over.

Notice how those experts have dropped that stance. Oh yes and the article cites manufacturer incentives as a reason why sales are up. Where's Autocar's Jim Holder? Wasn't it Jim who wrote several articles on here saying that the discounts were about to end?

I placed my order two weeks ago, delivery is four months away. Assuming that many more like me will not immediately collect their car then doesn't that suggest new registrations will remain healthy for the rest of the year?  No doubt the glass half full SMMT will find something else to complain about.