New car registrations in May were eight times greater than on the same month last year, but were down 14.7% on pre-pandemic May 2019, and 13.2% lower than the 10-year May average.
With the year’s first full month of showroom openings sales reached 156,737 units, according to the latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
Battery electric vehicle (BEV) market share declined from 12.0% a year ago to 8.4% in the past month, although the May 2020 performance was distorted by lockdowns when new cars could only be purchased through click and collect or delivery, giving rise to variable purchasing patterns.
Looking more broadly across 2021, plug-in vehicles now comprise 13.8% of new car registrations, up from 7.2% a year earlier, with the most rapid growth seen in plug-in hybrid (PHEV) derivatives.
Pure petrol and mild hybrid petrol cars so far account for 60.4% of registrations, while pure diesel and mild hybrid diesels took a 18.0% share year to date, compared to 64.6% and 22.4% last year.
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.”
Sue Robinson, chief executive of the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA) which represents franchised car and commercial vehicle dealers in the UK, commented: “In May, vehicle sales continued to benefit from the pent-up demand accumulated when showrooms were closed. Footfall levels and volumes of enquiries alike are now beginning to increase following the reopening of dealerships.
“Sales of new electric vehicles performed well and it is encouraging to see that plug-in vehicles now account for 13.8% of all new car sales; demand for used and nearly new cars remains buoyant too.
“The outlook for the industry remains positive, consumer confidence is rising and with the economy performing better than expected, dealers are optimistic about the months ahead although tightness in supply may affect registrations of new cars over the summer.”