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UK's new car market sees worst September since 1998

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UK's new car market sees worst September since 1998
Some 215,312 new cars were registered in September 2021. Photo: Getty

The UK new car market recorded its weakest September since 1998 even as electric vehicle uptake charged ahead, new data revealed.

Car registrations usually surge in September, due to the semi-annual number plate change introduced in 1999, but supply chain issues prevented orders from being fulfilled in the usual way.

Some 215,312 new cars were registered in September 2021, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said on Tuesday. This was a 34.4% fall on September last year, when pandemic restrictions were significantly curtailing economic activity.

September is typically the second busiest month of the year for the industry, but with a shortage of semiconductors impacting availability, the 2021 performance was down some 44.7% on the pre-pandemic ten-year average.

“This is a desperately disappointing September and further evidence of the ongoing impact of the COVID pandemic on the sector,” said Mike Hawes, SMMT CEO.

“Despite strong demand for new vehicles over the summer, three successive months have been hit by stalled supply due to reduced semiconductor availability, especially from Asia.

“Nevertheless, manufacturers are taking every measure possible to maintain deliveries and customers can expect attractive offers on a range of new vehicles.” 

Read more: Greggs warns of rising costs, labour shortages and supply chain woes

However, new registrations for electric vehicles (EVs) were up 137%.

September was also the best month ever for new battery electric vehicle (BEV) uptake. With a market share of 15.2%, 32,721 BEVs joined the road, reflecting growing consumer appetite.

September performance was just over 5,000 shy of the total number registered during 2019.

Plug-in hybrid (PHEV) share also grew to 6.4%, meaning more than one in five new cars registered in September were zero-emission capable.

Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) grew their overall market share from 8% in 2020 to 11.6%, with 24,961 registered in the month.

"Looking ahead, the recent decline in consumers’ confidence and the impending squeeze on real incomes from high inflation suggests that car sales will remain below pre-COVID norms over the next 12 months, even if supply chain issues can be resolved," said Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist, Pantheon Macroeconomics

"But households now have excess savings equal to 8.3% of 2020 GDP, with much of that held by high-income households who are most likely to buy a new vehicle. As a result, car manufacturers stand to profit when consumers’ confidence does rebound."

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