Sales are getting close to pre-pandemic levels.

A leading UK automotive industry body has hailed a “cautious recovery” in the new car market during May. Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show more than 156,000 new cars were registered in this country last month.

That figure represents a 674-percent increase in sales compared with May 2020, when showrooms were closed due to the coronavirus lockdown. However, the figure is down 14.7 percent when compared with the May of 2019, and 13.2 percent on the 10-year average for the month.

Following an April in which new car registrations came closer to normal levels, the SMMT has described a “cautious recovery” in the market, with businesses driving sales. The fleet sector made up 51 percent of all new car sales last month, and it has accounted for around 54 percent of all registrations in 2021 so far.

Renault dealer

However, the market still lags behind pre-pandemic levels. Over the first five months of the year, the SMMT says 723,845 cars have been registered – up 42.5 percent on the same period in 2020. But that’s still down 29.1 percent on the 10-year average for the first five months of the year.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said the results were as good as the industry could expect given the current situation, and expressed hope that the summer would be brighter for the sector.

“With dealerships back open and a brighter, sunnier, economic outlook, May’s registrations are as good as could reasonably be expected,” he said. “Increased business confidence is driving the recovery, something that needs to be maintained and translated in private consumer demand as the economy emerges from pandemic support measures.”

Car salesman in car dealership showroom

May’s figures also showed how much electric power is catching up. Electric vehicles (EVs) made up 8.4 percent of the new car market in May 2021, with more than 13,000 new electric cars registered. In comparison, hybrid cars made up 8.3 percent of the market, while plug-in hybrids accounted for 6.3 percent of sales.

Perhaps an even more dramatic reminder of how things have changed is the dramatic drop in registrations of diesel vehicles. Conventional diesels made up just 9.9 percent of sales in May. However, with many manufacturers adding mild-hybrid technology to their diesel engines, the fuel actually powers around about 17 percent of all new cars registered in May.

“Demand for electrified vehicles is helping encourage people into showrooms,” said Hawes, “but for these technologies to surpass their fossil-fuelled equivalents, a long term strategy for market transition and infrastructure investment is required.”