UK new car registrations soar as pandemic recovery continues

Stock Garage Photos 2021 16

But ongoing semiconductor shortage keeps volumes down compared to pre-pandemic 2020

New car registrations surged 27.5% year-on-year in the UK last month, shoring up optimism that the industry is on its way to recovery from heavily reduced volumes in 2021.

The latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show that 115,087 new cars were registered in January, some 24,838 more than the same month last year, when dealerships were forced to close in line with social distancing restrictions. 

However, the organisation notes, the ongoing chip shortage continues to restrict sales volumes, with registrations down 22.9% compared to January 2020. 

The growth came chiefly from the private market, which the SMMT attributes to manufacturers prioritising individual buyers, rather than fleets, in light of reduced production capacity. Some 62,300 cars went to private buyers, a 64.1% year-on-year increase and just 5.6% down on pre-pandemic levels. 

Fleet registrations, by contrast, remained steady at 50,817 units, down just 0.4%.

It was another bumper month for registrations of electrified vehicles, with pure-electric cars, plug-in hybrids and full hybrids accounting for a huge 71.5% proportion of the increase in registrations.

Almost a third of all new cars registered in January were electrified – of which 9047 were PHEVs and 14,433 were pure-electric.

The SMMT says there are more than 140 plug-in cars available in the UK, with 50 more scheduled to enter the market in 2022, but adds that uptake of such cars continues to be hampered by “perceptions of a lack of charging infrastructure, which must be built ahead of demand”. 

The body predicts that registrations of pure-Vs and PHEVs will climb by 61% and 42% in 2022, amounting to a 25% market share for plug-in cars by the end of the year. 

More generally, it anticipates a 15.2% increase in registrations this year, which equates to 1.897 million units – down on an estimate of 1.96m made in October as a result of the semiconductor shortage, and 17.9% down on 2019. 

But, says the SMMT, “ the recovery is expected to continue into 2023, with the market projected to climb above two million units for the first time since 2019”. 

Chief executive Mike Hawes said: “Given the lockdown-impacted January 2021, this month’s figures were always going to be an improvement but it is still reassuring to see a strengthening market.

“Once again it is electrified vehicles that are driving the growth, despite the ongoing headwinds of chip shortages, rising inflation and the cost-of-living squeeze. 

“2022 is off to a reasonable start, however, and with around 50 new electrified models due for release this year, customers will have an ever greater choice, which can only be good for our shared environmental ambitions.”

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