The UK new car market’s return to normal levels continued in August, with sales down by less than six percent compared with the same month in 2019. Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) showed more than 87,000 new cars were registered last month.

That figure was 5.8 percent lower than the SMMT recorded in August 2019, when around 92,500 new cars hit the road, but it remains much closer to ‘normal’ levels than some may have expected, given the scale of the coronavirus pandemic. And the latest figures reflect a month that has traditionally been quiet for car dealers as motorists hold on for the new registrations arriving in September.

Although such parity with last year’s sales would have been most welcome just a few months ago, when lockdown was in full swing and sales plummeted, the result follows a July in which pent-up demand saw registrations rise. With that in mind, the SMMT’s chief executive, Mike Hawes, said the figures for August were slightly lower than his organisation had hoped.

With the coronavirus lockdown still fresh in the memory – and some measures still in place in certain areas – the figures show the new car market is still far behind the levels seen this time last year. As of the end of August, 915,615 new cars had been registered in the UK during 2020, down almost 40 percent on the 1.52 million registered during the first eight months of 2019.

Nevertheless, Hawes said it was important not to hang too much on the results seen in August, particularly with the arrival of the new ‘70’ registrations this month.

“The decline is disappointing, following some brief optimism in July,” said Hawes. “However, given August is typically one the new car market’s quietest months, it’s important not to draw too many conclusions from these figures alone. With the all-important plate change month just around the corner, September is likely to provide a better barometer. As the nation takes steps to return to normality, protecting consumer confidence will be critical to driving a recovery.”

Smiling young couple buying a car at dealership

Electric sales continue to surge

Digging deeper into the figures shows demand from the private sector remains strong, with just 699 fewer vehicles heading the way of private buyers last month. However, much of the drop in demand came from the business sector, with 2,650 fewer cars joining company fleets.

And consumer tastes continue to swing in favour of electric vehicles (EVs), with sales of battery-electric cars up 77.6 percent compared with August 2019. It’s a trend seen throughout the year, with electric car registrations now 157 percent higher than they were at this point last year.

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV charging

Demand for plug-in hybrid vehicles has risen, too, with sales up 221 percent in August and 67 percent in 2020 so far. Conventional hybrids, however, have been less popular this year, with registrations down five percent during the first eight months of 2020.

The real loser, though, has been diesel power. Sales of diesel cars were down 39.5 percent in August, and they have fallen by almost 60 percent so far in 2020. However, some of the slack has been taken up by mild-hybrid diesels, which now account for 3.4 percent of the total UK car market, making them more popular than plug-in hybrids.

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