UK car sales growth driven by fleets as private demand falls

New car registrations rose for the 22nd month in a row in May, with a strong fleet market continuing to underpin growth as private sales dwindled. 

A total of 147,678 new cars hit the road in May, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), which represents an increase of 1.7% year on year. 

The growth also means last month was the best May performance since 2021, but sales were still down 19.6% compared with pre-Covid 2019. 

The growth was primarily driven by a healthy fleet and business market. Fleet sales increased by 14% year on year, while sales to businesses rose by 9.5%. However, sales to private buyers dropped by 12.9% year on year. 

Petrol and diesel sales fell year on year by 16.7% and 2.1% respectively, while sales of plug-in hybrids were boosted by 31.5%

Registrations of battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) were positive, rising by 6.2% to claim a market share of 17.6%. This figure was supplemented by fleet sales, where BEV uptake increased by 10.7% year on year. Private BEV registrations fell by 2%, representing a drop of 98 registrations compared with May last year.

The SMMT said EV sales in the UK are still “below the trajectory mandated on manufacturers by government in its Vehicle Emissions Trading Scheme, which demands 22% of new vehicles sold this year by each brand must be zero emission”. 

The organisation also said the industry required more support, calling for action 

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “As Britain prepares for next month’s general election, the new car market continues to hold steady as large fleets sustain growth, offsetting weakened private retail demand. 

“Consumers enjoy a plethora of new electric models and some very attractive offers, but manufacturers can’t sustain this scale of support on their own indefinitely. Their success so far should be a signpost for the next government that a faster and fairer transition requires carrots, not just sticks.”

The UK’s best-selling car in May was the Kia Sportage, followed by the Ford Puma and Audi A3. The Puma continues to lead the pack as the UK’s best-selling car of the year so far, with the Sportage, Nissan Qashqai and A3 trailing just behind. 

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