New Car Market Update March 2021

Rob Donaldson | 14 Apr 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.

New car registrations in March showed the first green shoots of growth since August 2020, with 29,280 more units registered compared to the same month last year. This represents an increase of 11.5% according to figures published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

However, March is also the anniversary of the first full lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, so comparisons with 2020 figures will fluctuate wildly throughout the year. If compared to March 2019’s pre-pandemic normal market, March 2021 registrations fell 38%.

March 2021 UK new car registrations graph

                                                                        Data courtesy of SMMT

The March on March growth figure was not uniform across all sectors. While Fleet volume grew 28.7% or 33,784 units and Business was up 18.6% or 902 units, sales to private consumers fell 4.1% or 5,406. In March 2020, the Fleet and Business sectors suffered larger falls in registrations than retail, so had a lower base point to grow from. Besides, many lease contract extensions have expired, hence an uptick in March registration activity, as company cars are often ordered without any physical viewing. Private consumers are more likely to purchase a vehicle after visiting dealerships first, which is why the April 12 reopening of non-essential retail is so important for the new and used car markets.

Despite March’s rise in registrations, the new car market dropped by 58,032 cars or 12% in quarter one, with sales to private consumers affected most as shown in the chart below.

Sector split YTD graph March 2021

                                                                                   Data courtesy of SMMT                                              

The shift to alternative fuelled cars is continuing at pace, with plug-ins making record volume. Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) took a combined market share of 13.9%, up from 7.3% last year, as the choice available to customers continues to grow.  Registrations of BEVs increased by 88.2% to 22,003 units, while PHEVs rose by 152.2% to 17,330. Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) also rose 42.0% to reach 21,599 registrations.

For this positive trend to continue, the government needs to maintain customer incentives for new cleaner technologies, whilst planning and implementing improved infrastructure to cope with the increasing registrations.

As we look ahead to the second quarter, it is logical that the new car market will catch back some of the ground lost in Q1, as the market was effectively closed in April and May last year due to Lockdown-1, with only just over 24,400 cars registered in the two months combined.

You might be also interested in

New Car Market Update February 2021

18 Mar 2021

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...

January 2021: New car registrations

10 Feb 2021

With Lockdown-3 in full force dampening the spread of COVID-19, inevitably January new car registrations suffered. Although retailers have created ‘click and collect’ processes to...

New Car Market Update December 2020

13 Jan 2021

New car registrations fell by 10.9% in December 2020, according to figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), marking the eleventh...

Yes, sign me up to Autovista24

* Mandatory

Sign up to receive the following email:
Autovista24: Essential automotive reading, data and intelligence – a daily update from the new Autovista24 website sent daily by Autovista Ltd, in English

We use pixels in our emails to monitor whenever you open, forward or click on the URLs in our emails. This helps us to monitor and measure the performance and effectiveness of our emails. We combine this with the information you provide above and your browsing information so that we can better tailor and improve our marketing to you and personalise your user experience on our website. By signing up, you are consenting to the use of your data for the purpose of sending you the selected emails and to the use of tracking pixels. You can withdraw your consent to receive our emails and the related tracking at any time by following this link to our Email Preference Centre and updating your preferences. For additional information on the processing of your personal data, please refer to the Autovista Group Privacy Policy and the Glass's Privacy Policy.