The UK new car market suffered its worst September in more than 20 years last month, according to new figures. Data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) showed just over 215,000 new cars were sold last month, the lowest September total since 1998.

Despite the introduction of the new ‘71’ registrations, which would normally bolster September sales significantly, a total of 215,312 new cars were registered last month. That’s down by more than a third (34.4 percent) compared with the same month in a Covid-ravaged 2020.

September is normally the second-busiest month of the year for new car sales, but the figures from last month were down a whopping -44.7 percent on the 10-year pre-pandemic average. According to the SMMT, the poor performance is partly down to the coronavirus-related global chip shortage, which has stunted production both in the UK and abroad.

New cars in car dealership showroom

However, the SMMT found a crumb of positive news among its disappointing figures. New electric vehicle (EV) sales, which have been rising for some time, hit record levels in September. According to the organisation, 32,721 electric cars were registered last month, representing a market share of 15.2 percent. In fact, EV sales in September were just 5,000 lower than in the whole of 2019.

With growing demand for hybrid cars seeing plug-in hybrids’ market share rise to 6.4 percent, the SMMT says one in five new cars last month was capable of zero-emission motoring. Meanwhile more conventional hybrid vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius, made up 11.6 percent of the market, with almost 25,000 examples hitting the road.

“This is a desperately disappointing September and further evidence of the ongoing impact of the Covid pandemic on the sector,” said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes. “Despite strong demand for new vehicles over the summer, three successive months have been hit by stalled supply due to reduced semiconductor availability, especially from Asia. Nevertheless, manufacturers are taking every measure possible to maintain deliveries and customers can expect attractive offers on a range of new vehicles.

“Despite these challenges, the rocketing uptake of plug-in vehicles, especially battery electric cars, demonstrates the increasing demand for these new technologies. However, to meet our collective decarbonisation ambitions, we need to ensure all drivers can make the switch – not just those with private driveways – requiring a massive investment in public recharging infrastructure. Charge point roll-out must keep pace with the acceleration in plug-in vehicle registrations.”

Customer shaking hands with dealership salesman