2018 car registrations results are in

Posted on February 14th, 2019 by Rob Marshall

2018 car registrations results are in

While I tend to leave my end-of-year round-up for my final blog in December, I thought it more appropriate to cut-through 2018’s ‘fake news’ and wait until the SMMT’s official new car registration data came out, to see how carmakers are faring in the UK.

In truth, the data is not completely reliable, because the registration figures oft-quoted by the media do not equate entirely to sales, due to car dealers and manufacturers self-registering large numbers of vehicles themselves. However, they still make interesting reading.

Therefore, in a year that saw the 26% slump in diesel sales not compensated fully by electric/hybrid/petrol/alternatively fuelled vehicles, various taxation tweaks, the occasional corporate scandal, rising pump prices and an economic climate best described as ‘uncertain’, how did manufacturers fare in a market that was down overall by 6.83% in 2018, compared with the previous year?


The winners: 2018 vs. 2017

Despite its registrations dropping by 11.6%, Ford managed to be the best-selling manufacturer (254,082). Considering its (in my view, not entirely fair) association with the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal, the Volkswagen Group (including Skoda and SEAT brands) managed to be the second highest selling manufacturer (203,133). Despite Vauxhall’s takeover by the PSA Group (owner of Peugeot, Citroen and DS brands) in 2017 and the subsequent redundancies made at the historic firm’s Luton base, the brand reached the Top Three favourite, even though its market share decreased by 9%. As you can see, even at the top, the results are mixed.

Perhaps the best performance overall for a fairly popular brand was SEAT (up 12% – 62,863 registrations) but this was blunted slightly by the results from other Volkswagen Group brands. Volvo managed a 9.1% improvement (50,319), aided by several very successful models entering dealer showrooms during 2018. For a relatively small importer, Mitsubishi’s registrations were up 31.5% (21,156) cars, although it will be interesting to see if its Outlander PHEV will remain a best seller, now that the £2,500 government grant for plug-in hybrids has ended (all the signs are that little has changed, however).

The Korean brand, Kia, outsold that of its parent company, Hyundai, for the first time, managing a 2.7% increase (95,764 registrations against Hyundai’s 89,925). Traditionally a ‘troubled’ brand, Jaguar posted a 4.2% increase, taking its total 2018 registrations to 37,019. Both MG and Subaru posted impressive percentage increases (103.8% and 17.3% respectively) but their relatively small registration figures of 9,049 and 3,141, should temper any potential bravado.


The losers: 2018 vs. 2017

At first glance, it appears that the French brands do not appear to be performing too badly. Peugeot (1.4% down – 81,043) and Citroën (3.6% down – 49,618) may have performed better than the market has overall but Peugeot/Citroën’s DS ‘premium’ brand suffered a disastrous 44.1% dive to a lowly 5.074 registrations last year, despite its first all-new model (the DS7 Crossback) arriving in showrooms at the end of 2017. Renault, meanwhile, suffered a 10% dip (62,168). Despite the bad publicity generated from its CEO, Carlos Ghosn, being charged with financial misconduct, I had expected Renault’s alliance partner, Nissan, to have performed far better than its 32.1% drop in registrations suggests; the figures were down from 151,156 in 2017 to 102,637 in 2018. Infiniti, the tech-laden luxury brand off-shoot of Nissan, the Q30 model of which is built at Nissan’s Sunderland plant, continues its struggle to convince British buyers that it is a credible alternative to other ‘premium’ brands, by experiencing a 79% slide in registrations to a mere 750 cars.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has been hit hard. Fiat is down almost 20% (35,652) and Alfa Romeo suffered a 16.8% slide to 4,161. Yet, FCA’s performance brand, Abarth, posted a 26.8% increase but, with registrations of only 5,631, there exists limited consolation.

Even the Germans suffered mixed results. Audi must be disappointed particularly with its 17.9% drop (143,739), especially as the higher volume of BMW registrations (172,048) has remained relatively static. Mercedes-Benz registered 190 cars more than BMW in 2018 but its sales fell by almost 5%. Its city car offshoot, smart, added to its woes with a 26% slide in registrations. Bentley, owned by the Volkswagen Group, registered just 1,542 cars, down 12% from 2017.

Other brands that performed worse than the industry average include Ssangyong (23.3% down), Porsche (11.5% down), Maserati (23.8% down) and Lotus (11.5% down).

Despite the superficial doom and gloom, industry analysis concludes that the UK is still a solid market, being the second biggest in Europe behind Germany. As GEM’s technical adviser, I found it interesting that it was not just certain high-tech models finding buyers very quickly but also at least one very low-tech vehicle did as well, indicating that high-tech offerings do not always equate to sales success.

2019 is set to be an interesting year on a number of counts, not least being new vehicle registrations for a blossoming EV industry, a handful of new brands and around 80 new car models intended for our shores.