September new car sales: Weakest since 1998

Published:  05 October, 2021

Continuing supply chain disruption is being blamed for a 34.4% fall in new car sales in September, despite it being one of the two main number plate change months of the year.

The figures from the SMMT showed that 215,312 new cars were sold during the month, making it the worst September since 1998, prior even to it becoming one of the twice-yearly new number plate months. September’s showing was also 44.7% down compared with the pre-pandemic ten-year average, which between 2010 and 2019 was 389,680.

In stark contrast, September was conversely the best month ever for new battery electric vehicle (BEV) sales, 32,721 BEVs were sold, making up 15.2% of the total for the month. For comparison, 37,850 BEVs registered during the whole of 2019. Plug-in hybrid (PHEV) share also grew to 6.4%, of the total, while, hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) made up 11.6%, with 24,961 registered in the month.

Commenting on the figures, SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes said: “This is a desperately disappointing September and further evidence of the ongoing impact of the Covid pandemic on the sector. Despite strong demand for new vehicles over the summer, three successive months have been hit by stalled supply due to reduced semiconductor availability, especially from Asia. Nevertheless, manufacturers are taking every measure possible to maintain deliveries and customers can expect attractive offers on a range of new vehicles.”

While the new car market continues to splutter, used car sales continue to race ahead. Alex Buttle, Director of used car marketplace Motorway.co.uk, observed: “Despite the ongoing supply challenges facing the UK car industry, the industry was pinning its hopes on robust new car sales in September, with the reg plate change kickstarting demand growth alongside the surging used car market, which is already super-buoyant with sales continuing to accelerate.

“New car supply issues are unlikely to ease until well into 2022, with production lines still being disrupted by the effects of the pandemic, including logistics issues and labour shortages. The used car market will continue to benefit from disenchanted buyers who are unwilling to wait for a new vehicle. The speed and convenience advantages of being able to buy nearly-new online and secure a vehicle for collection or delivery the same day will continue to grow in appeal.”

James Fairclough, CEO of AA Cars, added: “The supply of new cars has stubbornly failed to improve. In August the number of cars leaving UK factories slumped by a further 27%, the second successive fall in output. Despite dealers’ best efforts to fulfill customer orders as quickly as possible, too often they just don’t have the vehicles to sell. One thing that is improving is sales of electric vehicles. EVs and hybrids now account for well over a quarter of the cars made in UK factories, their highest ever level. For those already thinking of going electric, the sight of EV drivers breezing past long queues at service stations during September’s fuel crisis may have been a clincher.”

James concluded: “With demand outstripping the supply of new vehicles for sale, many motorists are choosing to focus on the second-hand market instead, where they can often get a nearly-new car for significantly less money than a new one. As a result, the used car market is seeing a prolonged surge in interest.”

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