New UK car sales plummet to second worst May in 30 years

Cars at the Vauxhall plant in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire. Workers at Vauxhall's UK car factory are waiting for news about the future of the plant, with an announcement expected later on Thursday. Picture date: Wednesday February 24, 2021.
The cost of living crisis poses a fresh threat to the UK car market. Photo: PA

Fewer cars rolled out from the assembly lines in the UK factories in April with registrations dropping over 20% to 124,394 units as supply shortages continue to batter the industry despite high demand.

The new figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) mark the second weakest May in three decades.

Only May 2020 — when the UK was in a coronavirus lockdown — was worse for the industry.

The SMMT attributed the decline to shortages of components which are reducing vehicle availability “despite demand”.

The market is now roughly a third below its pre-pandemic levels of 2019, despite strong order books.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “In yet another challenging month for the new car market, the industry continues to battle ongoing global parts shortages, with growing battery electric vehicle uptake one of the few bright spots.

“To continue this momentum and drive a robust mass market for these vehicles, we need to ensure every buyer has the confidence to go electric.

“This requires an acceleration in the rollout of accessible charging infrastructure to match the increasing number of plug-in vehicles, as well as incentives for the purchase of new, cleaner and greener cars.”

May saw registrations of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) rise by 17.7%, representing one in eight new cars joining the road last month. Plug-in hybrids declined 25.5%, while hybrids were up 12%, meaning deliveries of electrified vehicles accounted for three in 10 new cars.

Read more: One in every four cars in UK over 13 years old

Chris Knight, automotive partner at KPMG UK, warned the cost of living crisis could pose a fresh threat to the UK's ailing car industry.

“New car demand remains robust, with long wait times for many models, however a rising cost of living poses questions for the UK automotive industry for the rest of 2022.

“How many consumers delay purchasing a vehicle altogether is a key question, but so is where those wishing to buy lower-price new cars turn in a market where such models are in lower supply and have long waits.”

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