Volkswagen was again the best-selling car brand in Britain during the first quarter of 2021 while the Opel Vauxhall outsold the Ford Fiesta as the top-selling car model in the UK in Q1.
January – March 2021: new passenger vehicle registrations in the UK were down 12% but car sales increased in March and the outlook is positive, as car showrooms are due to reopen during April 2021 after months of lockdown. For the second consecutive year, Volkswagen outsold Ford, as the best-selling car brand in Britain for the first quarter of the year. BMW was again the third-best-selling car marque in the UK ahead of Mercedes-Benz and Audi. For the first time in many years, the Ford Fiesta was not the top-selling car model in Britain as it was outsold by the Vauxhall Corsa. Several premium models and SUVs entered the top-ten list of Britain’s favorite car models in 2021 (Q1).
British New Car Market in 2021 (Q1)
New passenger vehicle registrations in the United Kingdom contracted by 12% to 425,525 cars during the first quarter of 2021 compared to 483,557 cars registered during the first three months of 2020. In March 2021, the British car market was stronger for the first time since August 2020, although the market remained almost 40% smaller than the average for March sales over the past decade.
March is traditionally by far the strongest month for car sales in the UK, as new number plates are issued. (September also traditionally receives a boost from new plates but to a lesser extend being later in the model year.) Car showrooms are due to reopen in Britain during April 2021, which may give April and May 2021 the boost usually expected in March. Higher sales in March 2021 were mostly fleet sales while private consumer demand may play a larger role once shops reopen.
The SMMT calculated that for the automotive sector to return to its pre-pandemic levels, around 8,300 new cars will need to be registered in the UK every single trading day for the rest of the year. By comparison, the industry has averaged around 7,400 a day during the past decade and current levels are closer to 5,600 a day.
Fuel Types of New Cars in the UK in 2021 (Q1)
Petrol remained the most popular fuel type for new cars registered in Britain during the first quarter of 2021 with a market share of nearly 60% if mild hybrids are included while diesels took 19% of the UK market.
Sales of battery-electric vehicles (BEV) increased by 74% for a market share of 7.5% (3.8% a year ago). Plug-in hybrid car sales also almost doubled to increase market share to 6.3%
Best-Selling Car Brands in Britain in 2021 (Q1)
New passenger registrations numbers released by the SMMT showed the following as the top-selling car marques in Britain during the first three months of 2021:
|MARQUE||Q1/2021||Q1/2020||Q1/2019||% Change 21/20|
Top-Selling Car Brands in Britain in 2021 (Q1)
In 2021, for the second consecutive year, Volkswagen was the best-selling car brand in the UK during the first quarter of the year. However, VW was the worst-performing top ten brand in Britain thus far in 2021 and outsold second-placed Ford by only around 150 cars. Both Volkswagen and Ford bled market share as the only top ten best-selling car marques in Britain with sales below the market average during the first quarter of 2021.
The rank order for the so-called premium brands remained the same in Britain as at the start of 2021: BMW narrowly outsold Mercedes-Benz while Audi gained some market share.
Vauxhall outsold Toyota to gain sixth place in Britain while Land Rover and Kia swapped rank positions. Nissan maintained eighth place.
Smart and Subaru was the most-improved top-40 brands but of the larger marques Volvo and MG performed best. Two new brands entered the top-30 list: Cupra and Polestar.
The worst-performing brands were Honda, Mitsubishi, and Alfa Romeo with sales in Britain down by half.
Top Ten Best-Selling Car Models in Britain in 2021 (Q1)
The SMMT identified the following as the ten top-selling car models in Britain during the first three months of 2021:
|Car Make & Model||Q1/2021||Q1/2020||Q1/2019||Q1/2018||Q1/2017||Q1/2016|
|4||Mercedes Benz A-Class||10,169||10,213||16,632||12,213||NA||NA|
|5||BMW 3 Series||8,092||7,861||NA||NA||NA||NA|
Top-Ten Favorite Car Models in the UK
It was quite a shake-up for the list of the top ten best-selling car models in Britain during the first quarter of 2021 — only one model had the same rank position as a year ago while the list had three new entrants. The 2021 (Q1) list reflects the increasing popularity of SUVs and crossover vehicles in Britain, as well as an increase in sales of more expensive models. Only four of the models were also on the top-ten list five years ago.
For the first time in years, the Ford Fiesta was not the top-selling car model in Britain but rather the Vauxhall Corsa. The Corsa, frequently the second best-selling car in Britain in recent years but only fourth a year ago, took the top position by selling 768 more cars than the Fiesta. Corsa sales included 1,232 electric car sales, which made all the difference. A BEV Fiesta is not available.
Although the Ford Fiesta has been the top-selling car model in Britain for the full calendar year since 2009, the popularity of the Fiesta has been in decline for several years with the volume numbers significantly down in recent years. In the first quarter of 2021, Fiesta sales were roughly half the number sold in 2019 and only a third of the sales volume achieved in 2017.
The Nissan Qashqai remained the favorite SUV in Britain in 2021 and regained third (from fifth) for the first time since 2018.
The Mercedes-Benz A-Class moved up two positions while the BMW 3-Series was up from ninth for its best sales position ever in Britain. The similarly pricy Volvo XC40 was one of the new entrants on the list.
Sales of the VW Golf halved compared to a year ago with the Golf slipping from second to seventh.
The Kia Sportage was the only top-ten model with the same sales rank position as a year ago. The two further new entrants on the list were similarly SUVs: the Ford Puma and the VW Tiguan.
The three cars dropping out of the top-ten list of Britain’s favorite cars included the Ford Focus, the Mini, and the VW Polo — all cars that were more often than not on the list in recent years.