July saw UK new car sales rise for the first time since the coronavirus crisis struck, according to new figures released today. Data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) showed last month’s new passenger car registrations were more than 11 percent higher than during the same month of 2019.

The news follows months of sluggish sales as the coronavirus lockdown saw dealers effectively shut down. Even though the lockdown only began on March 23, registrations were slashed by around half, while April and May were even worse. Only in June did sales begin to pick up as dealers opened their showroom doors once more.

Now, though, with dealers back in business, the SMMT says pent-up demand has been unleashed, with private sales up 20 percent on July 2019’s levels. There has been strong demand for plug-in hybrid and electric cars, too, with registrations of the latter up 259 percent compared with the same month last year.

Plug-in hybrid sales, though, have been the star of the show. With sales up 320 percent on last year’s levels, the high-tech, low-emission cars accounted for 4.3 percent of all new car sales last month. In contrast, July 2019 saw plug-in hybrids make up just over one percent of new car registrations.

Interestingly, despite moves to bring forward the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, registrations of petrol-powered vehicles are more or less unchanged. Diesel sales have been in decline since the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal that took place almost five years ago, but demand for petrol remains even, with registrations up by a negligible 0.3 percent in July.

Pumps at petrol station

July’s registration figures also revealed interesting consumer trends, with the Vauxhall Corsa taking the title of Britain’s most popular new car for July. The Corsa’s arch rival, the Ford Fiesta, usually comes out on top – and it remains the best-selling car in the UK this year – but the Corsa pipped it to the post by just 34 registrations last month.

At the same time, the Volkswagen Tiguan and the new Ford Kuga crept into the top 10 for July, with total registrations of 2,880 and 2,686 respectively. The Tiguan’s performance was enough to see it rise into the top 10 new cars of 2020, booting out its rival, the Kia Sportage.

2019 Ford Kuga

But despite last month’s positive news, the SMMT says the British car industry is not out of the woods just yet. With the end of the government’s furlough scheme in sight and the prospect of a no-deal Brexit still very much on the cards, the organisation has warned that 13,000 people have already lost their jobs in the automotive sector, and further job cuts are to be expected.

Bentley resumes production in Crewe

“July’s figures are positive, with a boost from demand pent up from earlier in the year and some attractive offers meaning there are some very good deals to be had,” said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes. “We must be cautious, however, as showrooms have only just fully reopened nationwide and there is still much uncertainty about the future.

“By the end of September we should have a clearer picture of whether or not this is a long-term trend. Although this month’s figures provide hope, the market remains fragile in the face of possible future spikes and localised lockdowns as well as, sadly, probable job losses across the economy. The next few weeks will be crucial in showing whether or not we are on the road to recovery.”

Nissan Juke production at Sunderland UK plant