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2019 was one of the gloomiest years on record for car industry

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

New car sales fell 2.4% in the year to December 2019 as political and economic instability clouded the market.

There were 2.31 million new cars registered in the year to December 2019, down 2.4% on the 2.36 million recorded a year earlier.

However, the figures from The Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT) revealed that in December 2019, there were 149,000 new car registrations. This was up 3.4% on the month of December in 2018.

Diesel car sales slumped 19% in the year (41,846 in December 2018, 33,884 in December 2019), while petrol car registrations increased 2.6% to 94,251 in December last year.

Electric vehicle sales soared however, with December recording 4,939 battery electric vehicles registered (a 220% increase on the previous year), mild hybrid electric vehicle diesel cars up 438%, while the petrol version was up 266%.

The best-selling car last month was the Volkswagen Golf with 4,585 sales but year-to-date, the Ford Fiesta is the most popular car for new car sales.

‘Political and economic instability sucked all optimism out of the market’

Alex Buttle, director of car selling comparison site Motorway.co.uk, said: “Despite a positive end to the year, with registrations up 3.4% in December, the UK car industry will look back on 2019 as one of its gloomiest on record, as political and economic instability sucked all optimism out of the market.

“Diesel sales plummeted and consumers, confused by emissions legislation and concerned by Brexit, chose to hold off buying new cars en masse.

“There was at least some light amongst all this gloom though, as alternative fuel vehicles enjoyed strong growth and electric sales, in particular, rocketed.”

Buttle said manufacturers will be pinning their hopes on sales of EVs, which currently account for less than 2% of all registrations, exploding in 2020.

James Fairclough, chief executive of AA Cars, said December’s fall in sales figures reflects the challenging environment that faced the industry in 2019, but there are reasons for optimism for the year ahead.

“As with most of 2019, political and Brexit uncertainty hovered over much of December, but last month’s election will hopefully spark a much-needed resurgence in sales this year.

“Dealers will want to gain some momentum quickly in the first quarter, and any deals and special offers they can provide will go a long way to attracting motorists back to the forecourts.

“Looking ahead, hopefully 2020 will see the continued growth of electric and hybrid vehicles. Their sustained growth provided a positive thread throughout 2019, with drivers showing great enthusiasm for environmentally-friendly cars.”