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 3.4%, though registrations for the usually quiet month of August fell by just 1.6% over the same period in 2018.
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 12.2% compared with the year before.
Yet, despite their greatly reduced share of the new car market, diesel models still resonate with many car buyers — 410,012 “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 like the Toyota Prius (which have been dubiously-rebranded “self-charging”, despite requiring petrol or diesel to run) grew last month by 16.4%, despite like-for-like registrations of PHEVs falling by nearly three quarters (71.8%).
Registrations of pure-electric cars (aka battery-electric vehicles, or BEVs) were an impressive 377.5% up on the previous year in August, and sales of non-plug-in hybrids rose more than a quarter (28%) year-on-year.
Still, with 114,063 sales so far this year, AFVs make up only a small slither (7.5%) of the 1.5m+ new cars sold in 2019 to date, and pure-electric cars a tiny 1.1%. This is expected to change dramatically through 2019 as a host of new models arrive in more abundance, including the Tesla Model 3, Kia e-Niro and Hyundai Kona Electric, as supply issues (partly due to hold ups in battery production) are resolved.
That predicted upswing in the popularity of electric cars appears to have begun now. A Tesla spokesperson told Driving.co.uk it “wouldn’t be incorrect” to say the 2,082 registrations listed under “Other” in the SMMT’s August 2019 figures (Tesla doesn’t supply data directly to the SMMT) apply to the Tesla Model 3.
If this is the case, that means the Tesla Model 3 (which was launched in the UK in June this year) was the third most-popular new car last month; only outsold by the Ford Fiesta and VW Golf.
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 five different brands covering the top six 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 52,921
The Ford Fiesta ended 2018 comfortably as the UK’s best-selling new car, and the supermini maintained that popularity in the first half of 2019; it appears to be dominating the sales chart, finishing July in top spot with 5,646 registrations and a big gap to its arch nemesis, the Vauxhall Corsa (3,079).
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 39,220
Consistent popularity has made the Volkswagen Golf one of the UK’s best-selling family hatchbacks, and was the second-best seller overall in August. It’s locked in a close battle with the Ford Focus for best-of-the-rest honours behind the all-conquering Fiesta.
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.
3 Ford Focus
Number of registrations 37,988
Ranking fourth for the month of July with 1,886 registrations, the Focus has (not for the first time this year) lost its second-place spot 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 1,232 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 34,653
It may be nearing the end of its life cycle but the Vauxhall Corsa remains one of the UK’s best-selling 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 an all-new model replaces the current car later this year.
5 Nissan Qashqai
Number of registrations 34,498
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 and a sales slump in August (it didn’t feature at all in the top 10 last month), the Qashqai is selling incredibly well for the year so far; it currently sits in fifth place overall and comfortably ahead of its next closest rival, the Ford Kuga.
6 Mercedes-Benz A-class
Number of registrations 33,486
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 in the top 10 for the first half of 2019. So popular was the A-Class last month, it was only seven registrations shy of passing the Ford Focus for fourth place.
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.
7 Volkswagen Polo
Number of registrations 27,455
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. August wasn’t brilliant for the Polo, however, as its 1,282 registrations weren’t enough to get the Polo into the top 10 for the month.
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.
8 Ford Kuga
Number of registrations 25,116
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 25,000 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 later this year.
9 MINI Hatch
Number of registrations 24,125
With just 1,124 MINI Hatchbacks finding new homes in August, the British-built retro runabout was another car on this list that didn’t make it into the top 10 last month. Despite that, the MINI remains one of the most popular small cars with UK buyers, and its appeal could grow once the MINI Electric (Cooper SE) version arrives in 2020.
10 Kia Sportage
Number of registrations 22,367
The Kia Sportage has lost a bit more ground to its chief rivals, the Nissan Qashqai and Ford Kuga, though the SUV has 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.