Insight

New Car Market Update February 2021

Rob Donaldson | 18 Mar 2021

About the author

Rob Donaldson

UK Car Editor

Born in Acton, London, Robert worked for several blue-chip organisations including Compaq, British Airways and 3M. Of interest, Robert also owned a repair garage with his brother in the 90s with whom he restored Classic cars, before joining Glass’s in 2006.

With the UK in lockdown throughout February, it comes as no surprise to see another drop in new car registrations, with dealers having to rely on ‘click and collect’ and telephone transactions only. A total of 51,312 new cars were registered in February, down 35.5% from last year, according to data published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Underlining how poor February’s total was, the SMMT reported it was the lowest for the month in 52 years.

February’s deficit was a slight improvement on January’s 39.5% reduction. However, that is little comfort on such a small volume, in what is usually the quietest month of the year for sales, as consumers await the new plate in March.

Plug-in vehicles continued their upward trajectory with Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) and Plug-in Hybrid (PHEVs) taking a combined 13.0% market share for the month, up from just 5.7% in February 2020. BEV registrations increased by 40.2% to 3,516, and PHEVs by 52.1% to 3,131 as the motor industry continues to improve the choice and supply for consumers.

The contraction in registrations in February was more severe in the retail sector, down 37.3%, while fleet volume was down 33.5%. The fast disappearing business sector fell 56.6% to just 637 units. Over the first two months, the retraction in volume has been even across both private and fleet as shown in the chart below.

Sector Split YTD February 2021

On 22 February, The Prime Minister outlined a roadmap for easing restrictions in England, with non-essential retail, including car showrooms, able to reopen no earlier than 12 April. In Scotland, this is expected from the last week of April. A review of restrictions in Wales conducted on 12 March was expected to announce that non-essential retail would be able to reopen as soon as 15 March, however, although some restrictions were relaxed, non-essential retail will remain close until 12 April. A timetable for easing restrictions in Northern Ireland has not been announced, although a review is planned for 16 March.

Glass’s expects another poor set of results for March 2021, which is usually the busiest month of the year. We may not see a huge percentage drop versus last year as March 2020 heralded the start of the first national lockdown, with dealerships closing towards the end of the month, which impacted registrations.

From April, as the economy opens back up, there is an expectation that we will see pent-up private consumer demand released, together with an uptick in fleet activity as many extended lease contracts end. This will provide a significant boost to registrations for the second quarter, kickstarting dealers 2021 new car campaigns.

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