Don’t want to read about the overall health of the UK car market? Click to jump straight to the top 10 best-selling cars of the year
TO SAY that the car industry is navigating troubled waters right now would be like calling Jeremy Clarkson mildly opinionated. Those troubled waters appear to be filled with sea mines and enemy subs.
Increasingly tough measures against exhaust emissions — particularly the nitrogen oxides and particulates produced by diesel cars — have caused seismic shifts in buyer behaviour, and in 2018 many car makers (including Toyota, Kia, Volvo and Porsche) set a date for abandoning diesel engines altogether.
A change in the way car emissions are tested was brought in last year. The new “WLTP” test is seen as a much more accurate reflection of real-world driving conditions than the old laboratory-based “NEDC” test (which VW infamously cheated in the dieselgate scandal). The switchover has caused confusion over quoted MPG and CO2 figures, as customers (and journalists) struggle to compare one car’s efficiency with another.
Then there’s Brexit, which the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) says has already damaged car manufacturing, investment and jobs in the UK, but the prospect of a no-deal scenario when the UK leaves the EU is much worse. In January, Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said the UK car industry is now on “red alert”, as “permanent devastation [would be] caused by severing our frictionless trade links overnight, not just with the EU but with the many other global markets with which we currently trade freely.”
Petrol, diesel, electric and hybrid sales
What it all has meant for car buyers is an extra cautious approach to making big ticket purchases, especially of houses and new cars. Last year, car sales fell by 6.8%, and the trend continued into 2019. Year-to-date sales are down 2.9%, with registrations in October down 6.7% on what they were 12 months earlier.
When you look at the breakdown by fuel type, diesel cars continued to be a turn-off for consumers last month, with demand dropping by more than a quarter (28.3%) compared with the year before.
Yet, despite their greatly reduced share of the new car market, diesel models still resonate with many car buyers — 515,054 “oil burners” have been sold in the UK so far this year.
The decline of diesel has come alongside a rise in demand for “alternatively fuelled vehicles” (AFVs). Sales of pure-electric, hydrogen fuel cell, plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and hybrid cars such as the Toyota Prius (which have been dubiously-rebranded “self-charging”, despite requiring fossil fuels to run) grew last month by 49.3%. There was a 1.7% fall in PHEV registrations, which has been blamed on the removal of government incentives for such cars last year.
Registrations of pure-electric cars (aka battery-electric vehicles, or BEVs) in October were an impressive 151.8% up on the previous year, and sales of non-plug-in hybrids rose more than half (53.2%) year-on-year.
Still, with 183,520 sales so far this year, AFVs make up only a small part (9.2%) of the 2m+ new cars sold in 2019 to date, and pure-electric cars a tiny 1.4%. This is expected to change dramatically through the rest of 2019 and 2020 as a host of new models arrive, and supply issues (partly due to hold ups in battery production) are resolved.
By an overwhelming margin, then, petrol remains the preferred choice for many motorists: nearly two-thirds of new cars registered in the UK so far this year being powered solely by the fuel. Pure petrol vehicles’ popularity isn’t as healthy as it could be, though — while like-for-like registrations over the last 10 months has increased by 2.2%, registrations in October were down 2.3% on what they were in the same month last year.
Top 10 most popular cars in 2019
The Ford Fiesta supermini continues its dominant run as Britain’s most popular new car, but seven car manufacturers are represented in the top 10 for 2019 so far, with six different brands covering the top seven most popular new models for the year-to-date. Looking at the total number of cars registered since January 1, 2019, here’s the top 10 best-sellers list:
1 Ford Fiesta
Number of registrations 69,702
The Ford Fiesta ended 2018 comfortably as the UK’s best-selling new car, and the supermini has maintained that popularity through much of 2019; it is dominating the sales chart, finishing October in top spot with 5,138 registrations and a big gap to its arch nemesis, the Vauxhall Corsa (1,767), though the current Corsa is due to be replaced in the next few months.
Despite getting bigger with each new version, the Fiesta remains a delight to drive, with improvements in interior space and build quality over the old car and a great range of engine options further helping to make it a tempting buy.
2 Volkswagen Golf
Number of registrations 50,468
Consistent popularity has made the Volkswagen Golf one of the UK’s best-selling family hatchbacks, and was the third-best seller overall in October (3,976). It’s locked in a close battle with the Ford Focus for best-of-the-rest honours behind the all-conquering Fiesta, which is perhaps surprising given it still has a slightly more upmarket image — perhaps reflecting buyers’ more aspirational choices.
The Golf is a timeless choice with a high quality interior and decent driving dynamics, so it thoroughly deserves its success. It also bodes well for the all-new Golf that’s due to go on sale before the end of the year (look out for our first drive review before Christmas).
3 Ford Focus
Number of registrations 49,517
Ranking fifth for the month of October with 3,585 registrations, the Focus has lost a bit of ground in the charts to the VW Golf. There’s still enough time for the Ford to claw the gap before the end of the year, however, as just 951 sales separate the rival hatchbacks.
While retaining its everyman appeal the new Focus has a much more upmarket cabin than the one found in previous generations, while continuing to excel in the areas of handling and driving pleasure. And with good standard equipment levels, it’s no surprise the Focus is still a strong seller.
4 Vauxhall Corsa
Number of registrations 49,341
It may be nearing the end of its life cycle and made an uncharacteristic no-show in top 10 sales charts in October, but the Vauxhall Corsa remains one of the UK’s favourite new cars; not far behind the perennially-popular Ford Focus. Vauxhall will no doubt be looking to shift as many Corsas as possible off forecourts before the all-new model replaces the current car bover the winter.
5 Mercedes-Benz A-class
Number of registrations 46,923
The new Mercedes A-class is really hitting the spot with British buyers: the premium hatch accounts for nearly a third of Mercedes’ sales in the UK, and it has a sizeable lead over rivals like the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3, neither of which appear at all in the top 10.
With a lush interior, segment-leading tech spec, upmarket image and affordable finance deals, it’s not hard to see why so many motorists are won over.
6 Nissan Qashqai
Number of registrations 46,569
In 2018 the Nissan Qashqai’s popularity appeared to be on the wane as a wave of new rivals recently entered the crowded compact SUV market. But despite the fresh-faced competition, the Qashqai is selling incredibly well for the year so far; it currently sits in sixth place overall and comfortably ahead of its next closest rival, the Ford Kuga. In fact, last month it was the second best-selling car, only beaten by the Ford Fiesta.
7 MINI Hatch
Number of registrations 34,387
Despite its 1,993 registrations last month, the MINI has managed to hold onto its overall seventh-place spot in the charts. As a result, it also remains one of the most popular small cars with UK buyers, and its appeal could grow even more once the zero emission MINI Electric version arrives in 2020.
8 Ford Kuga
Number of registrations 33,848
It’s trailing the Nissan Qashqai on registrations but the Ford Kuga is still one of the UK’s most popular SUVs, with more than 30,000 being registered in the UK so far this year. The Kuga’s performance is even more impressive when you consider its successor is imminent — an all-new version of the family-friendly Ford Kuga crossover will arrive in showrooms in the next couple of months.
9 Volkswagen Polo
Number of registrations 32,257
It’s not giving the Ford Fiesta any sleepless nights but the Volkswagen Polo is still one of the UK’s most popular new cars, proving buyers of superminis are increasingly wanting to be seen driving upmarket brands.
Like the Golf, its bigger brother, the Polo is a great all-rounder with efficient engines, good ride quality and arguably the supermini segment’s most impressive interior.
10 Kia Sportage
Number of registrations 30,815
The Kia Sportage has lost a bit more ground to its chief rivals, the Nissan Qashqai and Ford Kuga, though the SUV’s strong October (2,588 registrations) means it’s done enough to retain its 10th place spot in the year-to-date charts. Like the Nissan Qashqai and the Ford Kuga, the Sportage is a well-balanced all-rounder, though the Korean crossover has one big USP over its competitors: an impressive seven-year/ 100,000-miles warranty.