Growth of 3.4% last month partly attributed to a poor May 2017; diesel sales continue downward spiral, while unusual segment growths are recorded

UK new car registrations in May grew by 3.4% year on year to 192,649 units, although the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) suggests that this is due to a particularly poor May 2017, so this may not be the recovery the industry has been waiting for. 

In May, 6384 more cars were registered than in the same month of last year. New VED and falling buyer confidence amid the general election and Brexit uncertainty were blamed for the 8.5% decline posted in May 2017.  

The new figure is still down on that in May 2016 (the best May since 2002), during which 203,585 cars were registered. However, in May 2016, diesel held 50% of the market, while petrol had 47.2% and alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs) just 2.8%. In May 2018, diesel made up less than a third of registrations, posting the 14th consecutive month of decline, while petrol had a strong majority of 61.8% and AFVs' market share almost doubled in two years to 5.8%. 

Within car segments, specialist sports cars rose by 12.7% in May, alongside an 11.7% rise in convertible demand  an unusual trend for a market heavily focused on practical, five-door cars. Superminis, up 6%, and SUVs, up 19.2%, were the biggest growers in the high-volume segments.

In the year to date, new car registrations were down 6.8% on last year, with around 80,000 fewer cars registered during January-May compared with the same period in 2017. The private market showed signs of life by posting a 10.1% increase year on year in May, but a 5.7% decline in the year to date. The business and fleet markets remained flaccid, declining 0.7% and 9.6% respectively in May, and falling 7.1% and 16.2% in January-May. 

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “May’s growth, albeit on the back of large declines last year, is encouraging and suggests the market is now starting to return to a more natural running rate. To ensure long-term stability, we need to avoid any further disruption to the market, and this will require sustainable policies that give consumers and businesses the confidence to invest in the new cars that best suit their needs.

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"Fleet renewal is the fastest way to improve air quality and reduce CO2, and this applies to hybrid and plug-in technologies, as well as the latest low-emission petrol and diesels which, for many drivers, remain the right choice economically and environmentally.”

Amid the media storm surrounding its new five-year plan, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles had a mixed May in the UK, with the Fiat brand declining by 35% year on year; registrations decreased to 2623 cars from 4075. Alfa Romeo increased by almost a third, with 355 units registered versus 269 in May 2017, while Jeep more than doubled May 2017’s sales with 652 cars last month. Maserati shrunk to 83 units from 107 in May 2017. 

MG posted growth of 105.3% over May 2017, selling more cars last month than Jeep and just 40 units less than Lexus, while budget brand Dacia grew by almost 30% to more than 2500 units, with 120,000 cars sold since its UK introduction just over five years ago. Porsche surged by around 56% to just shy of 2000 cars in May. Nissan posted a 18% decline from May 2017, equating to around 2000 cars. 

It's business as usual in the UK's top 10 best-sellers in the year so far; the Ford Fiesta leads the pack, followed by the Volkswagen Golf and Nissan Qashqai. The Focus outsold the latter two in May, however.

Read more:

Diesel car registrations slump by 20% in May 2017

UK new car sales rise in May 2016

Fiat-Chrysler group: the next five years

Confusion hinders hybrid and EV sales

Join the debate


5 June 2018

Usual SMMT spin on figures. Not all doom afterall, they must be disappointed! 

5 June 2018

what "the establishment" wants is bouyant car sales figures increasing year on year and that's the bottom line, however the VAG diesel debacle seems to have "woken up" people to the fact that cars in general are "not good" and not perhaps what's more worrying for the industry, not especially sexy any more.

5 June 2018
Look forward to diesel limited to 5 to 10 per cent of the new car market in the coming years. Car makers are dragging their feet on releasing to the market the mild hybrids that they have ready in their attempt to sell as many dirty diesels as possible. The taxes are still carbon-based therefore favouring diesel over petrol cars. Provide a level playing field and offer choice and let people decide for themselves what they want or need.

5 June 2018

ved tax is higher  duty is higher as diesel costs more per litre and benefit in kind tax will go back to petrol being the bad boy due to  co2. In five years  the market will be 30% diesel mainly premium and suv,petrol 30% cheaper cars and sports ,electric 10%  hybrid 20%,but most are not  very efficient according to people I know saying they are worse than a diesel for long journeys.

5 June 2018

But aren't used car sales at an all time high? The SMMT won't mention that and would rather blame Brexit.

5 June 2018

But aren't used car sales at an all time high? The SMMT won't mention that and would rather blame Brexit.

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