UK car sales increased by 10.4% in April compared to the same month in 2017 thanks a big boost in demand for petrol vehicles.
167,911 new cars were registered in April, with the increase almost entirely due to a 38.5% year-on-year uplift in deliveries for petrol cars. A total of 107,169 petrol-powered cars were registered in April alone.
Diesel cars, however, continued to be rejected by new car buyers, with a 24.9% year-on-year decline in sales leaving its total for April at 51,377 units. Diesel's share of the new car market has fallen to 32.9% for the year to date - in the same period of 2017 it held a 44.1% share.
The diesel downturn contrasted with sales for alternatively fuelled cars (mainly hybrids and electric vehicles), which were up by 49.3% in April compared with the same month last year. With 9365 new AFVs on the roads, the market share is still a relatively small 5.6%, but that’s up from 4.1% in April 2017.
Although the rise in registrations ends a longstanding slump in demand that’s has a knock-on effect on Britain’s car manufacturing output, Society of Motor Traders and Manufacturers boss Mike Hawes said that April’s results don’t signal a change in fortunes for the industry.
The main contributor to April’s gain was the lower-than-average performance in the same month last year. April 2017 suffered a decline in registrations thanks to changes to car vehicle excise duty (VED), which caused many buyers to purchase cars the month before, therefore depressing the April market.
“It’s important not to look at one month in isolation and, given the major disruption to last April’s market caused by sweeping VED changes, this increase is not unexpected,” Hawes said.
March 2018’s harsh weather conditions are also labelled as a contributor last month’s boost, because it had forced many deliveries to be delayed until the Beast from the East storm passed. Easter’s timing also meant there were two additional car-selling days in April.
“While the continuing growth in demand for plug-in and hybrid cars is positive news, the market share of these vehicles remains low and will do little to offset damaging declines elsewhere,” said Hawes. “Consumers need certainty about future policies towards different fuel types, including diesel, and a compelling package of incentives to deliver long-term confidence in the newest technologies.”
Even with the 10.4% boost of April, the UK’s overall new car market performance for 2018 so far is still down 8.8% compared with 2017, with 886,400 units registered in the year-to-date.
The SMMT expects the rate of decline to slow over the course of the year, but said that “political and economic uncertainty will continue to affect the market”, likely preventing it from achieving any growth in the short term.
The Ford Fiesta was Britain's best-selling car in April, with 7811 new examples being registered. The Volkswagen Golf was the second most popular, with the Nissan Qashqai third.