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 many car makers — including Toyota, Kia, Volvo and Porsche — last year set a date for abandoning such 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), and almost every new car on sale had to be re-tested, causing delays in delivery to customers. It also continues to cause 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 2.4%, and the traditionally busy month of May when near registration plates arrive saw new car registrations fall by 3.4% compared with the same period in 2018.
Diesel cars continued to be a big turn-off for consumers last month, dropping by 21.4% in March. Like-for-like sales are 20.3% down for 2019 so far, with diesel’s share of the market falling from 33.5% to 27.4% in the last 12 months. They still resonate with many car buyers, however, as 191,784 diesel-powered cars have been sold in the UK so far this year.
In contrast, registrations of “alternatively fuelled vehicles” (which include pure-electric, hydrogen fuel cell and hybrid cars) increased by 14.7%, but as they account for only 40,837 sales so far this year, they make yp only a small slither of the 701-036 new cars sold.
Petrol power continued its triumphant return as fuel of choice, making up more than two-thirds of all new cars registered in the UK over the last three months. Thanks to the March plate change, a whopping 312,075 of the 468,415 petrol-powered new cars sold so far this year were registered last month.
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 farm with five different brands covering the top six most popular new models for the year-to-date. Looking at the total number of cars sold since January 1, 2019, here’s the top 10 best-sellers list:
1 Ford Fiesta
Number of registrations 23,474
The Ford Fiesta ended 2018 comfortably as the UK’s best-selling new car, and the supermini maintained that popularity in the first three months of 2019; it appears to be dominating the sales chart, finishing March in top spot and with a big gap to its larger sibling, the Focus.
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 Vauxhall Corsa
Number of registrations 17,647
After two months languishing in the lower half of the top 10, the Vauxhall Corsa supermini saw a sales surge in March of 13,244 units, allowing it to rocket up to second place overall in the charts for 2019 so far. Vauxhall will no doubt be hoping this momentum continues — especially as an all-new Corsa is due to replace the current car before the end of the year.
3 Volkswagen Golf
Number of registrations 17,412
Nipping at the heels of the Vauxhall Corsa is the Volkswagen Golf, which is the UKs best-selling new compact family hatchback for the year so far, It’s a timeless choice with a quality interior and decent driving dynamics, so it thoroughly deserves its success. Much like the Corsa, an all-new Golf will go on sale soon, so it will be interesting to see how the current car fares before Volkswagen phases it out.
4 Ford Focus
Number of registrations 16,668
Though the Ford Focus saw a big spike in demand in March, it was only the sixth most popular new car overall. That said, the Focus remains a strong seller, with buyers finding much to like about its upmarket cabin, class-leading handling and good standard equipment levels.
5 Mercedes-Benz A-class
Number of registrations 16,632
The new Mercedes A-class is really hitting the spot with British buyers, it seems: the premium hatch accounts for nearly a third of Mercedes’ sales in the UK, and it outsold the Ford Focus by nearly a thousand units last month. 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 16,420
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. The Qashqai’s going strong in 2019, though, with 10,701 sales in March helping it to reach an impressive sixth-place spot in the year-to-date table, comfortably ahead of its closest rivals.
7 Volkswagen Polo
Number of registrations 13,089
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 are increasingly wanting to be seen driving upmarket brands.
Like the Golf, its bigger brother, the Volkswagen Polo is a great all-rounder, with efficient engines, good ride quality and arguably the supermini segment’s most impressive interior.
8 MINI Hatch
Number of registrations 11,969
On the back of a strong March that saw year-to-date sales almost quadruple, the retro Mini hatchback has returned to the top 10 after a brief spell away from the charts. It will be interesting to see if the upmarket supermini can maintain this form for the rest of 2019, before a new pure-electric version arrives in 2020.
9 Toyota Yaris
Number of registrations 10,400
Strongly rebounding from a dip in February, the Toyota Yaris is back in the ninth-place spot in which it started the year. It may be getting on a bit now, but the Yaris majors in areas like practicality and fuel economy, and it also has the USP of being the only car in its class that’s available as a petrol-electric hybrid.
10 Ford Kuga
Number of registrations 10,805
It’s trailing the Nissan Qashqai by quite a margin but the Ford Kuga is currently runner-up in the UK SUV sales charts, and one of Britain’s most popular new cars overall. The Kuga’s performance is even more impressive when you consider the car will be replaced soon: an all-new version of the family-friendly Ford will arrive in showrooms later this year.