New car sales: September sales down by 4.4%

Sam Naylor
October 05, 2020

New car sales fell by 4.4% in September 2020 compared with 2019 – that’s nearly 16% lower than September’s 10-year average.

  • New car registrations down 4.4%
  • 328,000 registrations in September 2020
  • 15.8% than September’s 10-year average
  • Private sales down 1.1%
  • Sales of electric cars up by 184%
  • Registrations down 33% year-to-date

Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show that new car registrations dropped by 4.4% in September compared with last year, a significant drop in the month known for high numbers of new cars being registered.

September saw the introduction of the new ’70’ number plate, which usually drives more new-car registrations than in August, but the SMMT reports that only 328,041 cars were registered during Septemeber 2020.

The rolling year-to-date total is 1,243,656 cars, representing a drop of more than 33% year-on-year compared with 2019. This year has been tough for the car industry following a devastating drop in registrations because of the Covid-19 crisis.

Some manufacturers have seen big increases over September 2018 and 2019, according to the SMMT, but others have seen sharp falls. This is partly due to changes to emissions regulations in previous years, which affected some manufacturers more than others. Private sales held stronger than business sales, but both fell in September; by 1.1% and 5.8% respectively.


Watch our review of one of the UK’s best-selling electric cars, the Tesla Model 3.

Sales of electric and plug-in cars have continued to rise, however. Registrations of pure electric cars are up by 184.3% compared with this time last year, and registrations of plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) are up by 138.6%.

New car sales: biggest sellers in September

The Vauxhall Corsa was the biggest seller in September 2020, and it beat its closest rival, the Ford Fiesta, by over 1,000 sales.

Small cars continue to dominate the sales charts in September, with the VW Polo and Mini both reaching the top 10, plus the Ford Puma small SUV. The Mercedes A-Class, VW Golf and Ford Focus are the top sellers in the larger family hatchback class.

New car sales: biggest sellers year to date

The Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa are the biggest-selling cars so far in 2020, followed by the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus. Strong sales of the Mercedes A-Class see it find a fifth-place slot this year-to-date.

Medium-sized SUVs such as the Nissan Qashqai, VW Tiguan and Kia Sportage are all doing well this year, too.

SMMT chairman Mike Hawes said: “During a torrid year, the automotive industry has demonstrated incredible resilience, but this is not a recovery. Despite the boost of a new registration plate, new model introductions and attractive offers, this is still the poorest September since the two-plate system was introduced in 1999.

“Unless the pandemic is controlled and economy-wide consumer and business confidence rebuilt, the short-term future looks very challenging indeed.”

carwow new-car sales

Head of OEM at carwow, Sepi Arani comments: “September’s plate change brings a few surprises along with some continued trends for sales on carwow. Most notably perhaps, is the continued and dramatic demise of diesel sales, with a 52% year-on-year fall in sales in September. Intrinsically linked, we see a steady and continued rise in the sale of AVFs (alternate-fuel vehicles).

“Fully electric vehicles (EVs) that rely on no other source of power are up 20%, whilst ‘mild’ hybrids are up 24%. The real growth area, however, is the significant surge in petrol plug-in sales, up a staggering 140% year-on-year. Whilst it is of little surprise that market share for AFVs is increasing, it’s clear that the mass market driver is dictating the shift with petrol plug-ins the halfway house.