September 2020 lowest new car registrations since 1999

Data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) points to a sizeable drop in new car registrations for September.

Published: 9th October 2020

September 2020 saw a -4.4% drop in new car registrations with only 328,041 new cars being registered, according to data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

For comparison, this figure is even lower than September 2008 following the global economic crash and the lowest since the new dual number plate system was introduced in 1999.

The industry had already been hard hit in September 2018 and 2019 with low volumes of registrations due to the WLTP emissions test being introduced for all new cars. These weak recent figures have meant that some brands have actually recorded an uplift in September 2020, but registrations are generally poor compared to previous years with a -15.8% drop on the 10 year average.

It isn’t all bad news thankfully. Continuing a strong positive trend of 2020, a huge 1 in 10 cars registered last month were either electric vehicles (EV) or hybrid electric vehicles (HEV). With a 184.3% increase on EV and HEV sales compared to September 2019, this could be seen to demonstrate increasing customer confidence in alternatives to combustion engine cars. In addition, consumers may feel more assured testing their experience of EVs and HEVs whilst they are expecting to travel shorter distances due to Covid-19 restrictions, particularly as some people may now have shorter or non-existent commutes.

Whilst these figures are encouraging, the SMMT has observed that to meet the government’s accelerated petrol and diesel ban in 2030 there will need to be strong commitment from the Westminster to facilitate the change. They suggest that this includes incentives and binding targets for infrastructure to boost confidence that charging an EV will be as easy as filling up at the pump.


The next quarter remains a challenge for the UK motoring industry, which accounts for a turnover of £82 billion into the country’s economy. Following an already difficult 2020, the sector will need to show even more resilience with reduced manufacturing levels and potential further restrictions due to Covid-19, Brexit uncertainty and the threat of tariffs, and the requirement of huge investments to move towards zero-emission vehicles.

In addition, the soon-to-end furlough scheme and expected rises in unemployment could undermine any limited progress which has been made thus far.

Sadly, regardless of what happens for the final quarter of 2020, it is almost impossible for the motor industry to recover an estimated £21.2 billion in lost sales with a projected market decline of -30.6% by the end of the year.

Published: 9th October 2020
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