Weakest March for new car sales since 1998, but EVs way up

Published:  05 April, 2022

Despite battery electric vehicles making up 16.1% of all new car sales in March, the most recorded in a single month, overall sales were actually down 14.3%, making it the worst March since 1998, prior to the advent of two-plate changes per year, according to the latest figures from the SMMT.

Positively, private buyer sales were up by 8.2%, although March 2021 was still the era of shuttered showrooms due to ongoing lockdown restrictions. However, fleet registrations were down 34.4%.

39,315 BEVs were sold during the month, up 78.7% on last year. In fact, more were registered in March 2022 than during all of 2019, and the top two sellers for the month were both Tesla models. Meanwhile, plug-in hybrid (PHEVs) sales dropped by 7.5% to 16,037, although hybrids (HEVs) were up 28.4% to 27,737. In total, 34.1% of all new cars sold in March were electrified in some way.

Usually, 20% of all new car sales take place in March, but according to SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes, ongoing supply issues are hurting the market: “March is typically the biggest month of the year for the new car market, so this performance is deeply disappointing and lays bare the challenges ahead. While demand remains robust, this decline illustrates the severity of the global semiconductor shortage, as manufacturers strive to deliver the latest, lowest emission vehicles to eagerly awaiting customers. Placing orders now will be beneficial for those looking to take advantage of incentives and lower running costs for electric vehicles, especially as the Ukraine crisis could affect supply still further.”

Commenting on the EV side, Mike added: “With increasing household and business costs, government must do all it can to support consumers so that the growth of electric vehicles can be sustained and the UK’s ambitious net zero timetable delivered.”

Noting the fact that the Tesla Model Y was the top seller for March, closely followed by the Tesla Model 3, CEO of car leasing comparison site LeaseLoco said: "Fuelled by the high cost of diesel and petrol at the pumps, Tesla powered to the top of the best seller chart in March, filling the top two spots. For the first time ever, the two best selling cars were electric last month. As the electric car revolution gathers pace this is likely to become commonplace as more people have the confidence to switch.”

He added: "The problem is going to be whether the government can meet the challenge head-on by delivering on a charging infrastructure that is fit-for-purpose, and is able to handle a significant ramp up in demand."

NFDA Chief Executive Sue Robinson observed “Cost of living increases are impacting customer decision making and it is vital that the government supports UK households as inflation rises. Despite this, there are offers that motorists can benefit from. Vehicle servicing departments continue to be busy and franchised dealers are working hard to ensure quality of service, customer value and support in the aftersales market.

Alex Buttle, co-founder of used car marketplace Motorway.co.uk, added: “Considering that car showrooms remained shut in March 2021 due to lockdown restrictions, and last month should have seen a boost from the release of the new 22 reg plate, a 14.3% drop in sales in March 2022 is disappointing.
“With little evidence to suggest that supply chain and microchip challenges will ease any time soon, buyers are likely to face lengthy delivery times for new car purchases for the foreseeable future. The used car market will continue to benefit from disenchanted buyers who aren’t willing to wait six months, or longer, for their new motors to be delivered.”

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