New car sales down 15% on pre-pandemic levels

Demand for new cars was down 14.7 per cent last month compared with May 2019, new figures show.

Some 156,737 new cars were registered in the UK last month, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said. That represents an eight-fold increase from May 2020 when retailers were closed, but remains down compared with pre-pandemic levels.

Total registrations over the year to date remain down 29.1 per cent on the average between 2010 and 2019 – and plug-in vehicles have taken a 13.8 per cent share of this year's new car market, up from 7.2 per cent at this point in 2020.

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Overall, the VW Golf was the most-bought new model last month, followed by the Vauxhall Corsa in second place. The Golf extended its 2021 lead at the top of sales charts ahead of the long-standing bestseller and closest rival, the Ford Fiesta. Superminis remained Britain’s most popular car choice, with a 31.1 per cent share.

The VW Golf was the most-bought new model last month. Picture: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images.

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SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: "With dealerships back open and a brighter, sunnier economic outlook, May's registrations are as good as could reasonably be expected.

"Increased business confidence is driving the recovery, something that needs to be maintained and translated in private consumer demand as the economy emerges from pandemic support measures.

"Demand for electrified vehicles is helping encourage people into showrooms, but for these technologies to surpass their fossil-fuelled equivalents, a long-term strategy for market transition and infrastructure investment is required."

Jim Holder of What Car? said: "With talk of potentially delaying further easing of restrictions, it remains crucial the industry can remain open to buyers."

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