Car sales down to earth with a bump as new registrations fall 20%

The UK new car market came down to earth with a resounding bump last month following a stellar March.

Figures published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show that 152,076 new cars were registered in April, a near 20% decline on the picture 12 months ago when 189,505 new models were registered.

Many manufacturers saw big declines – Jaguar Land Rover sales were down 35% in the UK.

Despite the fall, manufacturers are not heading for the hills just yet and the SMMT said it was confident in the strength of the home market.

Various factors have been cited for the decline – the rush to register new cars and avoid VED tax rises before the end of March and fewer selling days in April due to the later Easter.

Demand was down across the board, with registrations by private buyers, businesses and large fleets falling 28.4%, 21.0% and 12.3% respectively.

Despite the substantial falls in the month, the overall new car market remains strong in the year to date, with new registrations in the first four months up 1.1% year-on-year to 972,092 – the highest level on record.

Mike Hawes, chief executive, SMMT, said: “With the rush to register new cars and avoid VED tax rises before the end of March, as well as fewer selling days due to the later Easter, April was always going to be much slower.

“It’s important to note that the market remains at record levels as customers still see many benefits in purchasing a new car. We therefore expect demand to stabilise over the year as the turbulence created by these tax changes decreases.”

JLR was bolstered by the global success of its Jaguar F-Pace, which saw sales for the Big Cat rise by 54% globally in April. In fact, Jaguar had a record April, retailing 12,310 vehicles.

Land Rover on the other hand experienced a decline, with sales down 16%.

Retail sales were up in North America (33%), China (10%) and Europe (3%), but down in the UK (35%) and in other Overseas markets (20%) year-on-year.

Andy Goss, Jaguar Land Rover Group Sales Operations Director, said: “This was a solid sales month with a strong performance from Jaguar led by the award-winning F-Pace.

“A small decrease in overall sales was seen due to two factors. In the UK, customers purchased vehicles before the increase in vehicle tax on April 1. In addition, the run-out of the previous Discovery model accounted for a year-on-year decrease in Land Rover sales.

“Sales will increase from this month as the new Discovery continues to go on sale across the world, particularly in China and North America, two of Jaguar Land Rover’s biggest markets.”

There were a few winners in the UK last month. Aston Martin sales were up 88% (77 against 41), while BMW saw a more sedate 2.7% increase.

The big winner was Mercedes Benz, which saw a 10.5% increase and catapulted the German brand’s share of the UK market to 8.78%, putting it ahead of BMW (7.42%) and Audi (8.61%).

The strength of the German brands was in sharp contrast to that of Vauxhall, where sales of the Griffin-badge collapsed last month, falling by more than a third (33.08%).

The Corsa dropped out of the top 10 list of best sellers altogether, despite its third place listing in the best sellers for the year to date.

With the brand’s impending sale and bad publicity surrounding its Zafira model, buyers appeared to shun dealer forecourts.