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UK new car sales: weakest March for registrations since 1998

New car sales in the UK have seen their weakest March performance since 1998. Only 243,479 cars were registered across the country in March 2022 – down 14.3 per cent year-on-year – despite the third month of the year usually accounting for around 20 per cent of annual registrations due to the introduction of a new number plate format.

Announcing the latest figures, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) blamed the fall on ongoing supply chain issues and, more specifically, the continuing global shortage of semiconductor chips. The result is the worst March performance since before the introduction of the two-plate system.

March 2022 actually saw an 8.2 per cent boost for private registrations and a 20 per cent increase in business registrations. The losses came from a 34 per cent fall in large fleet registrations, as manufacturers prioritised orders from private individuals and smaller businesses.

There was a 78.7 per cent increase in electric car registrations in March 2022, meaning EVs took a 16.9 per cent market share. Overall, new car registrations for the first quarter of 2022 were down 1.9 per cent on Q1 2021.

In addition to the semiconductor shortage, the SMMT warns that there is further uncertainty for the automotive sector, with the Ukraine invasion causing supply chain issues, as well as rising energy and fuel costs – plus the ever-increasing cost of living – potentially impacting demand for new cars.

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the SMMT, commented: “March is typically the biggest month of the year for the new car market, so this performance is deeply disappointing and lays bare the challenges ahead.

“While demand remains robust, this decline illustrates the severity of the global semiconductor shortage, as manufacturers strive to deliver the latest, lowest emission vehicles to eagerly awaiting customers.

“Placing orders now will be beneficial for those looking to take advantage of incentives and lower running costs for electric vehicles, especially as the Ukraine crisis could affect supply still further.

“With increasing household and business costs, the Government must do all it can to support consumers so that the growth of electric vehicles can be sustained and the UK’s ambitious net zero timetable delivered.”

Thinking of buying an electric, petrol or hybrid car? Read our buying guide to help you along the way…

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