New Car Market Update May 2021

Rob Donaldson | 14 Jun 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.

How to run a successful car dealership

Following COVID-19 restriction easing, the recovery of the UK new car market continued in May. Indeed, May was the first full month that dealerships were allowed to open to physical customers this year. This, combined with the release of pent-up demand and improving business confidence boosted by the vaccination rollout, led to the market achieving 156,737 new car registrations in May according to data released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

This was nearly eight times greater than May last year when the first lockdown was in full effect. A better comparison is against May 2019s pre-pandemic total, which shows a reduction of 14.7%, which on face value is not so positive but there were two fewer working days this year.

Once again, the Fleet market led the way with stronger growth than Retail. As business confidence returns, lease contracts that had previously been extended are now ending, and company cars are being replaced. Also, the switch to low and zero CO2 emitting company cars continues at pace, as drivers look to benefit from attractive benefit-in-kind taxation by switching to battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs).  

New car market sector split YTD graph May 2021

                                                                        Data courtesy of SMMT

As the chart above shows, the fleet market has outperformed the other two sectors year to date.

The BEV market share declined from 12.0% a year ago to 8.4% in May, but this is due to the very low registrations and quirky nature of what was delivered last year. In reality, year-to-date market shares of hybrid and electrically chargeable vehicles continue to rise in the UK. In the first five months of the year, the petrol share of the market, including mild-hybrids was 60.4%, while diesel accounted for just 18% of all registrations so far. The combined share of hybrids and BEVs now exceeds the diesel share at 21.7%.

New car registrations fuel split graph May 2021

                                                                        Data courtesy of SMMT


Looking ahead to activity in June, Glass’s expects another positive new car registration total, despite some headwinds in the supply chain.  The further easing of lockdown restrictions will boost business and consumer confidence further. Also, with foreign holidays looking unlikely this summer, some consumers will have accrued extra disposable income over the last year which may filter into new car purchases, especially considering that the used car market has seen unprecedented price rises over the last three months, narrowing the price walk to a new car.

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