New car market recorded strongest February for 20 years, but private sales fell 2.6%

  • Registrations were up 14% on February 2023, latest SMMT data shows
  • EVs took a 17.7% share of the market
  • Growth is entirely down to fleets – private registrations continued to fall

Time 9:15 am, March 5, 2024

The UK new car market recorded its strongest February for 20 years, latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show.

Registrations were up 14% last month on February 2023, with a total of 84,886 cars hitting the roads.

It was the 19th consecutive month of growth which, says the SMMT, has been driven primarily by fleets purchasing new vehicles.

Moreover, the data shows fleets were responsible for the entirety of February’s 14% rise.

Private registrations continued to struggle in February, recording a 2.6% drop.

Plug-in hybrids recorded the largest growth in the month, rising by 29.1%, while hybrids jumped by 12.1% and battery electric vehicles rose by 21.8% and taking a 17.7% share.

The SMMT reiterated its plea for ‘fairer’ taxation of electric vehicles (EVs) ahead of Wednesday’s Budget.

It is urging chancellor Jeremy Hunt to halve VAT on the purchase of new EVs and make public charging ‘as easy and affordable as plugging in at home’.

Yesterday, leading car makers, energy firms and campaigners signed an open letter to the chancellor calling for VAT to be slashed on public charging points.

The Ford Puma returned to the top of the sales charts in February with 2,535 registrations, followed by the Volkswagen Golf at 2,203 and its T-Roc sister at 1,986.

The Puma is the year-to-date best-seller with 6,736 registrations, followed by the Kia Sportage (6,187) and the Nissan Qashqai (5,624).

What the industry says

Manufacturer discounts are working

Year-on-year growth in EV sales is encouraging but this is thanks to buoyant fleet sales, as growing numbers of drivers take advantage of benefit in kind and salary sacrifice schemes to overcome the electric upfront price barrier.

With the 22% Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate target of all new car sales to be electric now in effect, some manufacturers are turning to substantial offers to stimulate flat retail demand and entice potential car buyers, and our data shows it’s working.

At the end of February, one in five new car enquiries sent via Auto Trader were for EVs thanks to a few heavily discounted models.

Ian Plummer, Auto Trader

Incentives are needed

Private car buyers urgently need more support to switch to electric – if the government announces incentives for prospective EV drivers as well as plans to improve the charging infrastructure in the Budget tomorrow, sales could really start to power up.

Alex Buttle,

EV sales to consumers have plateaued

Ongoing pressure on household budgets and a higher cost of car finance mean that it’s still a difficult economic period for many people wanting to buy a new car, and a challenge for those trying to sell them. Overall, the UK market continues to hold up relatively well to this challenge, boosted by flowing supply of new vehicles, discounting on many forecourts, and export demand.

While the used EV market is growing, sales growth of new EVs to consumers has plateaued. Many in the car industry are looking to this week’s Budget and hoping that demnd can be stimulated by the likes of cutting VAT on EV purchasing and at public charge points. Increasing EV sales is now all the more important after the Zero Emission Vehicle mandate began this year.

Richard Peberdy, KPMG

James Batchelor's avatar

James – or Batch as he’s known – started at Car Dealer in 2010, first as the work experience boy, eventually becoming editor in 2013. He worked for Auto Express as editor-at-large and was the face of Carbuyer’s YouTube reviews. In 2020, he went freelance and now writes for a number of national titles and contributes regularly to Car Dealer. In October 2021 he became Car Dealer's associate editor.

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