The annual decline was driven primarily by falling private demand, with registrations from consumers down -3.2%, while the small volume business market also fell, down -34.4%. Fleet registrations, meanwhile, remained broadly stable, up +0.8%. Demand fell across nearly all vehicle segments, with only the dual purpose and specialist sports categories experiencing growth, up +12.0% and +19.2% respectively. Despite registrations of superminis and lower medium cars falling (by -6.0% and -4.0% respectively), these smaller vehicles remain the most popular – with a combined 57.1% market share.
There was modest growth in demand for petrol cars, up +2.2%. However, this was not enough to offset the significant -21.8% decline in diesel registrations. December marked the 33rd month of diesel decline, as continued anti-diesel rhetoric and confusion over clean air zones hit demand. This has resulted in drivers keeping their older, more polluting vehicles on the road for longer, holding back progress towards environmental goals.
Bucking the overall trend, combined alternatively fuelled vehicle (AFV) registrations surged in 2019 to take a record 7.4% market share. Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) continued to dominate this sector, with registrations increasing +17.1% to 97,850 units. Battery electric vehicle (BEV) registrations experienced the biggest percentage growth, rising +144.0% to 37,850 units and overtaking plug-in hybrids for the first time.
While the huge increase in BEV demand is welcome, their 1.6% market share is still tiny and underlines the progress needed to reach the 50-70% share the government envisages in the next 10 years. This ambition has not been helped by the significant decline of zero emission-capable plug-in hybrids, down -17.8% – further evidence of the consequences of prematurely removing upfront purchase incentives before the market is ready.
The figures come as SMMT publishes data showing the UK new car fleet average CO2 rose for a third successive year, by +2.7% to 127.9g/km. Massive investment by manufacturers into advanced powertrains, lightweight materials and aerodynamics means new cars are ever more efficient, with new cars emitting, on average, some -29.3% less CO2 than models produced in 2000. However, this could not offset the overall rise which was due primarily to the effect of the more stringent WLTP test of new models, which generally ascribes a higher CO2 value than the older NEDC test to the same model, as well as some segment shifts and the decline in diesel.
December ended a turbulent year on a positive, however, with the market up +3.4%. Fuel type demand mirrored that seen throughout the year, with diesel declining -19.0% and petrol rising +2.6%. Battery electric vehicles saw another huge increase in the last month of the year, up +220.7%, while PHEV registrations grew for only the fourth month this year, up +21.8%.
Despite the overall decline in 2019, the UK car market remains the second biggest in the EU, behind Germany. It is also one of the most diverse, with buyers able to choose from some 350 different models available in various fuel types and body styles to suit all driving needs. With nearly 90 exciting new generation models – 23 of them zero emission cars and 11 plug-in hybrids – set to make their showroom debuts in 2020, and some compelling deals on offer, the industry is committed to new technology that will benefit consumers and the broader environment.
December best sellers updated 15:38 Monday 6 January