2019 (Full Year) Britain: New Car Market Overview and Analysis

In 2019, new passenger vehicle registrations in the UK contracted by 2.4% to 2,311,140 cars – the third consecutive year of lower sales in Britain.

Bentley Number 9 edition. The British  new car market was weaker in 2019 with car sales down 2.4%

In full-year 2019, new passenger car registrations in Britain fell by 2.4% to 2,311,140 vehicles – the lowest total car market in the UK since 2013. Private demand for new cars in Britain was down 3.2% while fleet registrations were relatively stable (+0.8%). Diesel car sales in the UK in 2019 were down by over a fifth while electric car sales were up by 144%. The decline in car sales in Britain in 2019 was blamed on a variety of factors including political and economic uncertainty over Brexit but also uncertainty over future environmental regulations. Ford and Volkswagen were the best-selling car brand in Britain in 2019 and the Ford Fiesta the top-selling car model.

Latest British Car Sales Data: 2023: Market Overview, Brands, Models, Electric; 2022-2008.

British New Car Market in 2019 (Overview)

New passenger vehicle registrations in the UK decreased by 2.4% in 2019 to 2,311,140 cars – 56,007 cars fewer than were sold in Britain in 2018 and 380,000 below the high mark set in 2016.

Demand was particularly weak from private buyers in the UK with sales down 3.2% to 1,018,258 cars in 2019. Fleet sales increased slightly by 0.8% to 1,232,447 cars.

According to the SMMT. 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. 

British Car Sales by Year (2007 – 2019)

The British car market declined in 2019 for the third consecutive year with total sales the lowest since 2013.

New passenger vehicle registrations  in the UK by year since 2003

New passenger vehicle registrations in the UK per year were as follows since 2007:

YearUK Car Sales% Change
Source: SMMT

Car Sales in Britain in 2019 by Fuel Type

Car Sales in the UK by Fuel Type in 2019 © SMMT

The demand for petrol cars in the UK in 2019 increased slightly – up +2.2%. However, this was not enough to offset the significant -21.8% decline in diesel registrations. December 2019 marked the 33rd month of diesel decline in Britain, as continued anti-diesel rhetoric and confusion over clean air zones hit demand. According to the SMMT, 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. 

British Car Market – Outlook for 2020

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. 

The SMMT expects that nearly 90 new-generation models – 23 of them zero-emission cars and 11 plug-in hybrids – will make their showroom debuts in 2020.

Other surveys suggest that the confidence of British car buyers may be up at the beginning of 2020 following the general election in December. However, political and economic uncertainty is likely to be a factor later in 2020 depending on the progress of negotiations with the EU.

The total British new car market contracted by 2.4% to 2,3 million cars with Ford still the best-selling manufacturer and the Ford Fiesta the top-selling model. British automotive production in 2019 was lower – cars -14%, commercial vehicle -8% and engines -7%.

About the author:

Henk Bekker

Henk Bekker is a freelance writer with over 20 years of experience in online writing. His best-selling cars website has been reporting car sales statistics since 2008 with classic car auction prices focusing on the most expensive automobiles sold at public auctions in the past decade. He also owns the travel websites European-Traveler.com and Lake Geneva Switzerland. Henk holds an MBA from Edinburgh Business School and an MSc in Finance from the University of London.