London – For a third year in a row, new car registrations declined in the UK in 2019, despite record sales for zero-emission vehicles in the country.
Overall demand for new cars fell 2.4% year-on-year in 2019 to 2.3 million units as sales of diesel engine vehicles took a 22% hit, according to data released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
In a 6 Jan statement, the SMMT linked the decline to “weak business and consumer confidence, general political and economic instability and confusion over clean air zones.”
The drop was driven primarily by falling private demand, with registrations from consumers down 3.2% and a significant 34.4% shrink in the small volume business market.
Petrol cars registered a moderate 2.2% year-on-year growth with 1.5 million units sold in 2019, while diesel registrations saw the 33rd month of decline in sales in December.
“Anti-diesel rhetoric and confusion over clean air zones”, said SMMT, resulted in drivers keeping their older, more polluting vehicles on the road for longer and holding back progress towards environmental goals.
Bucking the overall trend, combined alternatively fuelled vehicle (AFV) registrations surged in 2019 to take a record 7.4% market share.
Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) continued to dominate this sector, with registrations increasing 17.1% to 97,850 units.
Battery electric vehicle (BEV) registrations experienced the biggest percentage growth, rising 144.0% to just under 38,000 units.
Despite the strong BEV demand, market share for the vehicle type stood at 1.6% significantly below the 50-70% target envisaged by the UK government in the next 10 years.
“Political and economic uncertainty, and confusing messages on clean air zones have taken their toll on buyer confidence, with demand for new cars at a six-year low,” said Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive.
To meet the stringent CO2 targets set by the government, Hawes said the UK should urgently invest in infrastructure and take broader measures to encourage uptake of the latest, low and zero emission cars.
Despite the overall decline in 2019, SMMT pointed out, the UK car market remains the second biggest in the EU, behind Germany.