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UK New Car Market Declines In 2017

January 6, 2018

By Paul Homewood



New car registrations in the UK fell by 5.7% last year, largely due to anti-diesel sentiment from government.




Total registrations fell by 152,000, but diesel numbers dropped by 219,000.

This drop was only partially offset by higher petrol sales of 36,000, and AFVs of 31,000. Of the latter, EVs increased by 10,000 to 45,000, still only representing a tiny 1.8% of total registrations, despite the large subsidy on offer.


Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, commented:

The decline in the new car market is concerning but it’s important to remember demand remains at historically high levels. More than 2.5 million people drove away in a new car last year, benefitting from the latest, safest, cleanest and most fuel efficient technology.

Falling business and consumer confidence is undoubtedly taking a toll, however, and confusing anti-diesel messages have caused many to hesitate before buying a new low emission diesel car. Keeping older vehicles on the road will not only mean higher running costs but will hold back progress towards our environmental goals. Consumers should be encouraged to buy the right car for their lifestyle and driving needs irrespective of fuel type – whether that be petrol, electric, hybrid or diesel as it could save them money.

2017 has undoubtedly been a very volatile year and the lacklustre economic growth means that we expect a further weakening in the market for 2018. The upside for consumers, however, is some very, very competitive deals.


Government policy towards diesel cars has been dreadfully ambiguous in the past year. There has been talk of increasing taxation on them, though in the end the budget was a damp squib in that respect.

But, I believe, great damage has been done by various threats to impose punitive charges for diesel cars to enter towns and cities in the future. The sort of amounts mooted would be quite unaffordable for many people, who rely on their cars to get to work.

It is hardly surprising then that many drivers are now holding back from replacing their cars, until things become clearer.

The government has been very weak in this respect, albeit under pressure from the need to improve air quality in cities. Although it has said that local councils must show they have considered other means to deal with air quality, the door has been left open for charging.

Knowing just how greedy councils are, who would bet against such charges being commonplace in a few years time?

The big irony is that older, more polluting cars are being kept on the road longer.


All the government can say is:

“Our ambitious Clean Growth Strategy sets out the UK’s position as a world-leader in cutting carbon emissions to combat climate change while driving economic growth.

“This includes investing nearly £1.5bn in accelerating the roll-out of ultra-low emission vehicles by 2020 – generating business opportunities and leading to cleaner air and lower greenhouse gas emissions.”


Yet the figures make it totally clear that the vast majority of drivers have no absolutely no interest at all in buying electric cars.

Government obsession with climate change risks causing grave damage to the UK car industry, one of the country’s big success stories in recent years.

  1. January 6, 2018 5:44 pm

    I’m surprised that anybody is still buying a new diesel car. You can’t trust the politicians (national or local) not to make diesel cars virtually worthless.

    • catweazle666 permalink
      January 6, 2018 8:45 pm

      “I’m surprised that anybody is still buying a new diesel car.”

      But there are some very nice second hand ones up for grabs for little money, I’ve just bought a very nice Mercedes sports coupe for little over a grand that is very pleasant to drive, goes steers and stops very nicely and does over 50 MPG!

    • Ben Vorlich permalink
      January 7, 2018 11:07 am

      There’ll be a large element of of “once bitten, twice shy” at play here. Who is going to buy a new car until the current government decide what they do as regards incentives to encourage purchase of environmentally friendly vehicles, what vehicles are deemed unacceptable and what is going to be done with them. As this government seems incapable deciding anything or communicating with the people then it may be a long wait.

      For most people there are three issues in deciding what type of power source to buy,
      1 Initial cost
      2 Running costs
      3 Residual value
      In the past diesels were at a disadvantage for the first but for higher mileages there was a gain as a result of lower running costs and higher residual values. For the time being if you own a diesel and want/need a replacement then the only known is the initial cost for whatever power source you choose everything else is up in the air. Better the devil you know and keep your current vehicle.

  2. RAH permalink
    January 6, 2018 5:53 pm

    US new cars sales are down over 3% compared to this time last year and I don’t think it has anything to do with what fuel they use.

  3. Robin permalink
    January 6, 2018 6:01 pm

    It’s very difficult to have any sympathy with people conned into buying diesel cars by the bad science of the “CO2 is poison” brigade (hmmm, how do plants survive?!) and some tax fiddle from Gordon Brown. Back in the early 70s I lived in Hong Kong and the problem with diesels and NO2 was well known then. Once again, a lack of scientific knowledge within the Government ranks and the population at large has led to this state of affairs.

    • Ian permalink
      January 7, 2018 10:16 am

      What proportion of Diesel buyers was conned? I suspect the vast majority voted with their wallets and/or the car was a company purchase. Trends in car purchase and use suggest that for most people, climate change isn’t a consideration.

      Time was wifey would have her own “little car” if she was lucky, say a Renault 5. Nowadays, people turn up on the school run in 4x4s and enormous people carriers. Even grandparents have to go for the bigger carrying capacity because of their child-minding duties.

      As I suggested above, the vast bulk of the population is too busy having a life to care. The ones who do profess to care, among the ones I know, still take their fly-cruise holidays and don’t see the irony.

      Rant over.

      • John Palmer permalink
        January 7, 2018 10:59 am


  4. Phoenix44 permalink
    January 6, 2018 6:30 pm

    Not really very accurate I’m afraid. After the financial crisis, car sales fell for a few years. They then picked up and peaked last year as sales caught up with those postponed. Now sales have fallen back to towards the “normalised” level.

    Car sales are always cyclical. This is just part of a cycle you would expect after a few years below norm and a few years above norm.

    Blaming diesel is a silly as blaming Brexit.

    • BJ in UK permalink
      January 6, 2018 7:36 pm

      Not silly with me mate. The last three cars I’ve had we’re diesels.
      My recent new car is petrol, as I’m not taking the chance on another diesel.

    • January 6, 2018 8:41 pm

      Right enough, but the game of ducks and drakes the government has been playing with diesel cars is certainly more than enough to dent confidence of the potential buyers of new ones. I have driving diesel cars, not exclusively of course, since 1972 but you’d have to have faith in government common sense and reasonable behaviour to buy one now and I am not that naïve.

  5. Athelstan permalink
    January 6, 2018 8:09 pm

    I am not going to play their ‘air pollution’ dance, big diesel are the major polluters and they green tosserati all put wood buring stoves in their des resi’s – arrant hypocrisy and political charades and the relentless chicanery and double dealing, thos underhand deals with corporate blob – namely the motor manufacturers club – no one’s quite worked out where the ‘juice’ for all these lecky cars is going to come from – yet.

    No! **** em what we (‘the people’) need is the fresh air of pragmatic, real world solutions and there’s more chance of digging for green cheese on the moon than any break out of common sence in the whole UK administration, and where that spitting cat green loony (caroline lucas) has the ear of government – there’s simply no hope.

    Again, I will not play their “air pollution game” – that’s the thin end of a very big wedge.

  6. January 6, 2018 8:16 pm

    O/T Update : Re Greenpeace being censured of claim that Off Shore Wind farm costs have halved
    #1 ASA declined to reply to me via Twitter messaging
    #2 Facebook vids still up #3 Twitter vids still up
    #4 Actually there’s no listing of a judgement on ASA’s website, so checking GWPF I see that ASA concluded “The advertiser agreed not to use such claims in future advertising, so we considered the case to have been resolved informally.”
    #5 There is a new Update from GWPF : Greenpeace are still being devious,
    so GWPF have resubmitted complaint

    • January 6, 2018 10:06 pm

      I emailed Benny Peiser to tell him about the Facebook vids are still up.

      He has written to ASA to complain again. We’ll see what they say

  7. MrGrimNasty permalink
    January 6, 2018 8:37 pm

    So in 2016 47.7/100 cars sold were diesel, in 2017 it was 42/100.

    Hardly a diesel sales collapse, and given all the ridiculously negative BBC and MSM diesel bashing/scandal/tax scares nonsense, extraordinarily robust sales I’d say.

    Obviously the BBC etc. will use the figures to convince the sheep everyone is switching to battery cars.

    UK cars sales are headed for a big dip anyway, the growth was the result of another irresponsible credit bubble and there has to be a clampdown or there will be another financial crash.

  8. Ian Wilson permalink
    January 7, 2018 9:30 am

    It may reflect how little buyers really care about pollution that Volkswagen, despite their reprehensible behaviour over emissions, sold more Golfs in December than any other car. Not strictly pertinent to this blog but I’m quite puzzled why this is so as Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index shows their reliability to be poor. Hondas (largely made in Swindon) show an index of 42, over 3 times better than VW’s dismal 137. Perhaps someone knows why a vehicle associated with emission scandal and weak reliability outsells everything else.

    • A C Osborn permalink
      January 7, 2018 11:10 am

      Living on a 20 year old reputation.
      For real inconsistency take a look at Tesla ratings.
      Then look at Tesla failures, about 1 in 3 cars.
      That suggests that either Tesla owners lie out of embarrassment at having spent so much on a very unreliable car, or they put the driving experience before reliability.

  9. Chilli permalink
    January 7, 2018 11:45 am

    The downturn from 2016 is likely due to the new flat VED tax rate. In 2016 you could buy a <130g/km CO2 car and pay little or no VED for life. Sales rocketed and tax receipts plummeted so Osbourne announced that from 2017 all new cars would be charged a flat £140 pa. So alot people brought forward their purchases in 2016 to avoid the new flat tax. Hence the downturn in 2017.

  10. Ian Wilson permalink
    January 7, 2018 12:05 pm

    Another thought – would the Liverpool car park fire have been as devastating, or perhaps not have happened at all, if no petrol cars had been present? The less explosive nature of diesel relative to petrol seems to be ignored in all the rumpus over diesel.
    Incidentally, is the diesel engine misnamed? Herbert Ackroyd Stuart ran and put into production compression ignition engines years before Diesel, albeit at lower compression.

  11. Gerry, England permalink
    January 7, 2018 12:30 pm

    The car loans bubble has been responsible for a boost to sales in the last few years with deals where after 3 years you can pay off and own the car outright or pay another deposit and get another new car on the same terms. The credit checks are minimal to almost non-existent.

    As far as councils screwing money out of drivers on the flimsy grounds of air pollution, I can assure you that in London that will be in place everywhere in little more than a year.

  12. The Old Bloke permalink
    January 7, 2018 8:27 pm

    I’m not surprised there is a slowing of car sales, everyone has claimed, and spent, their PPI money.

  13. January 8, 2018 9:26 am

    I found something interesting yesterday.
    Norway is supposed to be a paradise for electric cars, yet in NEW SALES the number of petrol engined cars has RISEN and number of pure electrics has FALLEN.
    And that is despite the Tesla Tax idea not going through.
    The key thing EV’s today are only 5% of 2.7m in Norway cos Norway’s high prices mean they keep aged cars going for 18 years .
    Hey you say, but what about stats saying that in Norway new sales of electrics was 40% ?
    … well it’s now 52.1% , but the point is HYBRIDS are powering ahead of pure electrics.
    Wiki : tells us that plug-in hybrid’s have now outpaced Pure EV’s and that is the actual growth

    “After years of spectacular growth, the market share of all-electric cars suffered a decline over the previous year,
    while the plug-in hybrid segment experienced significant growth”

    And that is despite hybrids less subsidies and perks than pure EVs.
    However Norway has a growing road tax deficit it will have to deal with.
    – I learned direct from the Norway Transport Plan PDF that the touted 2025 “end of petrol/diesel” target is not set in stone (but rather a recommendation for cars and by 2035 not fully done for tucks/buses)

    I learnt this whilst picking apart the spin in the blurb for what seems to be an ELECTRIC CAR ADVERT to be on Radio4 on Thursday and Friday. All EV articles seem to written off PR hyperbole sheets.

    • January 8, 2018 9:42 am

      The point of EV subsidies is that, the number of miles driven by cars on petrol/diesel should be falling.
      But I wonder if that is actually the case I’m wondering if the number of miles driven in a new hybrid on petrol is really much smaller than the distance they drove in their old pure petrol/diesel car ?

  14. fretslider permalink
    January 8, 2018 1:24 pm

    I just bought another car – ex demonstrator with approx 2000 on the clock

    It’s a petrol engine vehicle – most reliable. The amount of diesel cars nobody wants is phenomenal.

    • January 8, 2018 8:23 pm

      Norway fuel Trend – Petrol sales fall each year for last 5, approx -20%
      but Diesel outsells petrol 3 fold, rose in sales approx +12%
      (and agricultural duty free diesel is about same sales as petrol, growth pattern same as other diesel)
      2015-2016 Petrol sales fell 2% …. diesel rose 5%
      2016 Petrol 1,155 ….Diesel : 3,135

      figs in million litres
      Last month different trend
      Nov 2017 vs Nov 2016
      Petrol higher 89 vs 83 +7.2 …. Diesel fell 253 vs 259 -6

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