New car sales: December sales down by 10.9%

Nick Lette van Oostvoorne
January 06, 2021

New car sales fell by 10.9% in December 2020 compared with 2019, and total annual sales dropped by 29.4% over the last 12 months. 

  • 132,682 registrations in December 2020
  • New car registrations down 10.9%
  • Private sales down 13.9%
  • Sales of electric cars up by 343.7%
  • Registrations in 2020 down 29.4% year-on-year

Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show that new car registrations dropped by 10.9% in December compared with the same month last year, and by 29.4% over the course of 2020 compared with 2019.

The total number of new cars registered in 2020 is 1,631,064, which represents a drop of more than 29.4% year-on-year compared with 2019. Last year was exceptionally tough for the car industry following a devastating drop in registrations because of complications arising from the Covid-19 crisis.

Private sales dropped by 26.6% over the course of 2020 compared with 2019, while fleet and business sales saw dips of 31.1% and 43.3% respectively.


Watch our latest electric car range test

The sales of electric vehicles saw steady growth throughout 2020, finishing on an impressive 343.7% year-on-year increase in December. Mild-hybrid car sales grew by 244.9% and plug-in hybrid car sales saw 103.3% sales boost over the same period.

Over the course of 2020, electric vehicle sales grew by 185.9%, mild-hybrid vehicle sales by 184.1% and plug-in hybrid sales by 91.2% compared with the whole of 2019.

New car sales: biggest sellers in December

The Tesla Model 3 was the biggest seller in December 2020, netting over 1,300 more new registrations than the next-best-selling car, the Volkswagen Golf.

The UK’s top-10 best-selling cars continued to be a mix of small hatchbacks and upmarket models, from the ever-popular Ford Fiesta to the likes of the Volvo XC40 SUV and Mercedes A-Class.

New car sales: biggest sellers year to date

The Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa were the biggest-selling cars of 2020, followed by the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus. Strong sales of the Mercedes A-Class saw it find a fifth-place slot in 2020.

SUVs such as the Nissan Qashqai, Volvo XC40 and the smaller Ford Puma also performed well.

SMMT chairman Mike Hawes said: “2020 will be seen as a ‘lost year’ for Automotive, with the sector under pandemic-enforced shutdown for much of the year and uncertainty over future trading conditions taking their toll. However, with the rollout of vaccines and clarity over our new relationship with the EU, we must make 2021 a year of recovery.

“With manufacturers bringing record numbers of electrified vehicles to market over the coming months, we will work with the government to encourage drivers to make the switch, while promoting investment in our globally-renowned manufacturing base – recharging the market, industry and economy.

carwow new-car sales

James Hind, carwow CEO, comments: “The initial lockdowns and subsequent roll-out of Tier 3 and Tier 4 restrictions across such a significant area of the UK have understandably played a large part in the huge decline in new car registrations.

“The majority of new car buyers still want to see and test-drive their new cars before committing to such a substantial financial outlay, and the inability to do that throughout so many months during 2020 has undoubtedly had a huge impact on the industry.

“Car factories across the world being forced to shut down their manufacturing and production back in Spring has also understandably dented the rollout of new vehicles; with dealers having far fewer new cars in stock to choose from, alongside longer waiting times.

“Ultimately, it’s not all doom and gloom regarding the automotive industry and there are many reasons to be hopeful as we charge into 2021. Pent-up demand is expected from consumers hungry to reward themselves for a year of frugality and limited options to spend, and with a far larger choice of electric and plug-in-hybrid cars than a year ago, great deals are currently available from manufacturers and car dealers.”