TODAY’S announcement by the SMMT that new car registrations declined by 3.4 per cent last month compared with March 2018 has provoked a wide-ranging reaction from industry figures.
Ian Gilmartin, head of retail and wholesale at Barclays Corporate Banking, said: ‘Manufacturers have recognised the state of the market and cut supply accordingly, which has had the knock-on effect of removing some of the pressure on dealers to slash prices and margins to meet very high sales targets. We’re also observing longer lead times for new vehicles, which may mean some demand is deferred and will appear in future registration figures.
‘Dealers shouldn’t be fixated on short-term bumps in sales figures – today’s numbers are to be expected in the context of everything else that’s happening in the UK at the moment.’
Sue Robinson, director of the National Franchised Dealers Association, said: ‘Despite the challenges affecting new car sales, retailers are demonstrating their resilience [by] capitalising on the opportunities provided by other business areas including used cars, aftersales and alternative fuel vehicles.
‘Whilst there is demand for new cars, consumer decisions are being delayed due to Brexit. We call on the government to produce a deal with the EU that protects motor retailing, a crucial industry for the UK economy.’
James Fairclough, chief executive of AA Cars, said: ‘March typically sees buyers rushing to dealerships to snag themselves cars with the latest plates, so these subdued figures are somewhat surprising.
‘The stark truth is that the uncertainty in Westminster continues to set the tone for consumer confidence across the country. The removal of the plug-in car grant marked a notable step back for EVs, so supportive measures are needed before one of the ongoing success stories for the new car sector stalls.’
Alex Buttle, director of car-selling comparison website Motorway.co.uk, said: ‘The UK car industry was desperately in need of a second month of sustained growth to give it momentum as we head into the eye of the Brexit storm. Instead, it has been struck by a mighty hammer blow.
‘Despite the new 19 plate entering circulation on March 1, new car registrations have returned to a familiar pattern of negative total sales, with positive growth in petrol and AFV sales undermined by a double-digit drop in diesel.’
However, Auto Trader director Ian Plummer was more optimistic, saying: ‘Despite the growing levels of economic instability and ongoing fuel-type confusion, the market is showing admirable resilience at a time when the industry needs it most. And with the much-feared “no-deal Brexit” yet to transpire, the solid market performance should continue into the weeks to come.
‘The immediate outlook remains positive too. Not only are Brexit negotiations far from being finalised, but thanks to brands bringing forward stock levels to help boost Q1, there’ll be plenty of deals still available to fuel consumer demand.’
Karl Davis, managing director of Coachworks Consulting, said: ‘The market fall in the all-important March plate change and Q1 is hardly surprising considering the macroeconomic headwinds.
‘Car retailers needed a strong finish to Q1 after what had been a flat start to the year. The challenge dealers face now is how to trade profitably in Q2 with Brexit still unresolved, talk of a general election and the continued fall in diesel demand. Dealers need to create some momentum for Q2, which means focusing more than ever on aftersales and used cars.’