Records tumble as UK car industry enjoys its best-ever March

The Discovery Sport - fastest-selling Land Rover ever

The UK’s new car market grew by 8.4% in March – the biggest month since records began.

The record performance came as buyers seized the chance to buy cars before the new vehicle excise duty (VED) rates came into force. From April 1, under the new system all new cars, except for those with zero emissions, are subject to an annual flat rate charge.

Virtually every manufacturer saw an increase in new registrations, although one notable exception was Vauxhall, which saw registrations tumble more than 10% as speculation over the future of the brand saw buyers look elsewhere.

Figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show 562,337 new cars were registered in March, more than double the number in the first two months of the year combined.

The performance means 820,016 new cars were driven off forecourts in the first quarter of 2017, up 6.2% on the same period in 2016 and setting a new record for the quarter.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “These record figures are undoubtedly boosted by consumers and businesses reacting to new VED changes, pulling forward purchases into March, especially those ultra-low emission vehicles that will no longer benefit from a zero-rate fee.

“This bumper performance probably means we will see a slowdown in April, exacerbated by the fact there are fewer selling days this year given Easter timing. Looking ahead to the rest of the year, we still expect the market to cool only slightly given broader political uncertainties as there are still attractive deals on offer.”

Flying the flag for the British motor industry was Jaguar Land Rover, whose own record-breaking performance was the equivalent of having a new vehicle registered every 30 seconds in March.

Jaguar was the star, aided by strong sales of its F-Pace, XE and XF, the brand was up 68% on the same month last year, selling 9,571 cars against 5,659 12 months ago.

Land Rover was no slouch either. It celebrated its own best March, with sales of 22,283, up 14% on March 2016, aided by a raft of new models such as the Discovery and Discovery Sport, the latter overtaking the Range Rover Evoque as the brand’s fastest-selling model.

Commenting on the performance, Jeremy Hicks, Jaguar Land Rover UK Managing Director said: “After a record breaking 2016 and start to 2017 we are continuing our momentum with these March figures. In the midst of the current uncertain economic climate it shows that the Jaguar and Land Rover brands are stronger than ever here in the UK.”

For Jaguar, the XE enjoyed its best month in the UK since its 2015 launch, retailing 3,359 vehicles last month. The F-Pace continued its impressive start as the fastest-selling Jaguar ever while gaining critical acclaim with more than 40 awards in its first year. The World Car of the Year finalist retailed 2,879 vehicles in March.

The company is expecting momentum to continue with the impending arrival of the new Range Rover Velar, plus the new Jaguar I-Pace, the brand’s first all-electric model.

Other highlights saw Aston Martin, up 128.5%, selling 425 cars against 186 last March. Rival Bentley saw a more modest 23.4% increase, selling 358 against 290.

JLR rival BMW was up 7.4%, selling 34,873 vehicles against 32,470 in March 2016.

Ford maintained its position as biggest manufacturer, selling 71,837 cars against 60,349 last March, a rise of 19%. It claimed the two best sellers in the Fiesta and Focus, while its Kuga model was a surprise entrant in the top 10 (No 9).