The UK new car market suffered a “deeply disappointing” month in March despite the arrival of the new ‘22’ number plates. Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) showed a 14.3-percent decline in registrations compared with the same month last year.

March is normally the busiest month for UK car dealers, but the SMMT says sluggish sales are almost entirely down to the ongoing semiconductor shortage that has been stifling global vehicle production for several months. According to the organisation, manufacturers reported “robust order books during the first quarter”, but supply issues meant just 243,479 new cars were registered during the third month of 2022.

That figure does not just represent a drop of more than 14 percent compared with March 2021, but it’s the lowest March sales figure since 1998 – prior to the introduction of the ‘two-plate’ system that sees new number plates introduced every six months. As March usually accounts for around 20 percent of total annual registrations, the SMMT says the results demonstrate the “long-term impact” of the coronavirus pandemic on the automotive industry.

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“March is typically the biggest month of the year for the new car market, so this performance is deeply disappointing and lays bare the challenges ahead,” said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes. “While demand remains robust, this decline illustrates the severity of the global semiconductor shortage, as manufacturers strive to deliver the latest, lowest emission vehicles to eagerly awaiting customers.

“Placing orders now will be beneficial for those looking to take advantage of incentives and lower running costs for electric vehicles, especially as the Ukraine crisis could affect supply still further. With increasing household and business costs, government must do all it can to support consumers so that the growth of electric vehicles can be sustained and the UK’s ambitious net zero timetable delivered.”

Supply shortages aside, the SMMT figures revealed some good news for fans of electric and hybrid vehicles, which continue to grow in popularity. According to the data, more than 39,000 new fully electric passenger cars were registered last month, up from just over 22,000 in March 2021. That means electric vehicles made up 16.1 percent of the market overall in March, and 15.4 percent of the market during the first three months of 2022.

Similarly, demand for hybrid vehicles is also increasing, with almost 44,000 hybrid and plug-in hybrid passenger cars registered in March. That’s an increase of around 5,000 vehicles compared with the same month last year, and it means hybrids now make up 18 percent of all new car sales – up from 13.7 percent in March 2021.

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