Don’t want to read bout 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 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 3.4%, with registrations in June falling by 4.9% compared with 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 a considerable 19.4%. Yet, despite their reduced share of the new car market, diesel models still resonate with many car buyers — 344,877 “oil burners” have been sold in the UK so far this year.
Registrations of “alternatively fuelled vehicles” (which include pure-electric, hydrogen fuel cell, plug-in hybrid and dubiously-rebranded “self-charging” hybrid cars, like the Toyota Prius) also fell last month by 4.3%, though much of that drop was down to plummeting interest in plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) after the government cut the grant available to such cars at the end of last year.
Interest in pure-electric cars (aka battery-electric vehicles, or BEVs) actually jumped by more than 60% last month, compared with the year before, and sales of hybrids without a plug rose 17.2% year-on-year.
Still, though, 83,932 sales so far this year (of which only 11,975 were pure-electric), they make up only a small slither of the 1,269,245 new cars sold in 2019 to date. This is expected to change dramatically through 2019 as a host of new models arrive, including the Tesla Model 3, Kia eNiro and Hyundai Kona Electric, and supply issues (partly due to hold ups in battery production) are resolved.
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 43,297
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 June in top spot with 7,507 registrations and a big gap to its second-placed arch nemesis, the Vauxhall Corsa (5,614).
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 Ford Focus
Number of registrations 32,239
Despite only ranking fifth for the month of July (5,450 registrations), the Focus has had enough sales over the first half of 2019 to make it a Ford one-two overall, though it’s a close-run thing with the VW Golf — less than 750 registrations 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 area of handling and driving pleasure. And with good standard equipment levels, it’s no surprise the Focus is still a strong seller.
3 Volkswagen Golf
Number of registrations 31,493
Consistent popularity has made the Volkswagen Golf one of the UK’s best-selling family hatchbacks, nabbing the final spot in the top three for the first half of 2019. It’s locked in a close battle behind the Ford Fiesta for best-of-the-rest honours with the Focus.
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.
4 Vauxhall Corsa
Number of registrations 29,982
It may be nearing the end of its life cycle but the Vauxhall Corsa remains one of the UK’s best-selling new cars, its 5,614 registrations in June enough to keep the Fiesta rival in fourth place for the year to date. 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 29,180
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 has rallied and is going strong in 2019, sitting comfortably ahead of its closest crossover rivals, in fifth-place overall. June was a particularly good month for the model, with 5,333 registrations making it the only SUV to appear in the top 10 sellers list.
6 Mercedes-Benz A-class
Number of registrations 27,904
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 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.
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 23,605
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. In June, VW sold 4,592 Polos in the UK.
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 MINI Hatch
Number of registrations 21,037
The MINI has long been a favourite with British motorists and the premium supermini had bumper June — with 5,535 examples registered it was the third best-selling car in the UK. It will be interesting to see if the MINI can maintain this level of sales success – especially when the forthcoming, pure-electric “Cooper SE” model arrives on the market.
9 Ford Kuga
Number of registrations 20,425
It’s trailing the Nissan Qashqai on registrations and didn’t make it into the monthly top 10 for June, but the Ford Kuga is still one of the UK’s most popular SUVs, with more than 20,000 registrations for the first half of 2019. 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.
10 Toyota Yaris
Number of registrations 19,147
The little Toyota Yaris has been a frequent sight in the bottom half of the monthly top 10 charts this year, and June saw the supermini as the seventh most popular model on sale, ahead of the VW Polo. A big part of the Yaris’ appeal is likely that it’s one of the only small cars that can be specced with a hybrid powertrain, making it incredibly economical on fuel.