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The Vauxhall Corsa remains the UK’s best-selling new car in 2021, with 20,024 models registered so far this year according to SMMT figures

Business confidence and fleet sales drive recovery in new car and van registrations

With the year’s first full month of showroom openings, new car registrations in May reached 156,737 units, according to the latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

The total represents an almost eightfold increase on the same month last year, but is down -14.7 percent on pre-pandemic May 2019, and -13.2 percent on the 10-year May average.

Uptake was in line with the most recent industry outlook, published in April, which sees the sector anticipating around 1.86 million registrations by the end of the year – with 723,845 achieved so far.

Against a more positive economic backdrop – including OECD forecasting a 7.2 percent increase in UK GDP during 2021 – fleet registrations grew more than twice as fast as private purchases in May.

Large fleets accounted for more than half (50.7 percent) of all new vehicles hitting the road, demonstrating improving business confidence compared to the same month last year.

In terms of segments, dual-purpose vehicles saw a small decline in market share in the month, down to 26.7 percent, leapfrogged by lower medium cars which rose to 27.8 percent. Superminis remained Britain’s most popular car choice, with a 31.1 percent share.

Battery electric vehicle (BEV) market share declined from 12.0 percent a year ago to 8.4 percent in the past month, although the May 2020 performance was distorted by lockdowns when new cars could only be purchased through click and collect or delivery, giving rise to variable purchasing patterns.

Looking more broadly across 2021, plug-in vehicles now comprise 13.8 percent of new car registrations, up from 7.2 percent a year earlier, with the most rapid growth seen in plug-in hybrid (PHEV) derivatives.

Pure petrol and mild-hybrid petrol cars so far account for 60.4 percent of registrations, while pure diesel and mild hybrid diesels took a 18.0 percent share year to date, compared to 64.6 percent and 22.4 percent last year.

Total registrations for 2021 sit at 296,448 fewer units, or 29.1 percent less than the average recorded across January to May during the last decade, evidence of the scale of the recovery still needed given the impact of Covid on the market.

“With dealerships back open and a brighter, sunnier, economic outlook, May’s registrations are as good as could reasonably be expected,” said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes.

“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.

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

Meanwhile, the light commercial vehicle market had another record-setting month, with 29,354 vans registered in May, according to the latest figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

It was the best May performance on record for the LCV market, 4.7 percent up on pre-pandemic levels as the increasing sector confidence continues beyond lockdowns, when demand for deliveries, e-commerce and essential services first put commercial vehicles to the test.

Registrations grew across all vehicle segments, with the total number of units quadrupling on last year’s lockdown-impacted figures. Demand for larger 2.5 to 3.5 tonne vans drove the increase, comprising two thirds of all registrations, some 19,687 vans.

With 157,150 vans registered so far in 2021, performance year to date is the highest on record, almost double what it was in 2020 (up 99.3 percent), and up four percent on a pre-pandemic five-year average.

“May’s figures are welcome news, suggesting Britain’s additional reliance on commercial vehicles is a long-term shift rather than a lockdown stopgap,” said Mike.

“As the nationwide vaccination rollout continues at pace, maintaining business confidence is essential for the LCV market. However, to counter the environmental impact accompanying increased demand, we need to incentivise some 4.6 million van users and operators alike to make the switch to zero-emission capable technologies.

“This starts with plans for a nationwide charging infrastructure that can support the diverse needs of the commercial vehicle sector.”

Pictured: The Vauxhall Corsa remains the UK’s best-selling new car in 2021, with 20,024 models registered so far this year according to SMMT figures