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September car sales at 20-year low

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New car registrations for September – typically the busiest month of the year – fell 4.4% as supplier issues and buyer caution remain amid the health crisis.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT) revealed that UK new car registrations fell 4.4% from 343,255 in September 2019 to 328,041 last month.

This marks the weakest ever ‘new plate’ September since the introduction of the dual plate system in 1999 and quashes earlier predictions that pent-up demand would boost the ailing sector.

The figure is typically around 16% lower than the 10-year average of around 390,000 units for the month, SMMT added.

Year-to-date, registrations have slumped 33% from 1.8 million in 2019 to 1.2 million this year.

Diesel sales in September were down 38% from 76,277 last year to 46,996 this year.

Petrol car registrations also declined 21% from 223,243 to 176,532.

However, the BEV (battery electric vehicle), PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) and HEV (hybrid electric vehicle) market registered a 103% increase (year-on-year).

SMMT said battery electric and plug-in hybrid car uptake now accounts for more than one in 10 registrations.

But it added that the ‘torrid year’ for the industry means there’s little prospect of recovering the 615,000 registrations lost so far in 2020. The sector now expects an overall -30.6% market decline by the end of the year, equivalent to some £21.2bn in lost sales.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “During a torrid year, the automotive industry has demonstrated incredible resilience, but this is not a recovery. Despite the boost of a new registration plate, new model introductions and attractive offers, this is still the poorest September since the two-plate system was introduced in 1999. Unless the pandemic is controlled and economy-wide consumer and business confidence rebuilt, the short-term future looks very challenging indeed.”

James Fairclough, CEO of AA Cars, said: “September is traditionally one of the busiest months in the calendar for dealerships because of the introduction of new plates, and so it’s a great disappointment that there was no increase in sales at a time which usually sees high demand.

“It’s clear that the recovery in the latter part of 2020 is likely to be gradual and inconsistent from month-to-month.

“Dealerships are frantically playing catch up for the months of sales lost during lockdown. Even though many have made great strides over the summer, the winter months will be decisive in determining how sustainable the momentum is.

“Drivers’ concerns about the stability of their finances could also be pegging back demand for new cars and prompting many to look for better value on the second-hand market instead.”

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