UK car sales 2022: annual registrations lowest in 30 years

Five months of consecutive growth at the end of the year could not prevent UK new car sales falling to their lowest ebb in 30 years, according to figures for 2022 just released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

The decline, blamed primarily on supply chain shortages, especially of semiconductors, left total sales at 1.61 million units, 2.0% lower than 2021’s Covid-affected levels and around 700,000 lower than the figure for 2019, the most recent “normal” year.

Despite the full year’s weakness, SMMT’s CEO Mike Hawes revealed an 18% improvement in December sales (which totalled 181,000 cars). This was the latest gain in a trend the SMMT believes will lead to a 15% improvement in 2023 sales to about 1.8 million vehicles. The extra 190,000 vehicles will be worth around £8.4 billion, it estimates. Despite the difficulties of 2022, the UK still reclaimed its traditional position as Europe’s second-biggest car market behind Germany, a position it had conceded to France.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes believes that despite recent warnings of weakening demand arriving in other consumer sectors, the car market’s slow improvement in component availability, and thus supplies of vehicles, combined with a continuing pent-up demand from impatient buyers, should allow the car market to buck a downward trend already being established for other consumer goods.

During 2022, component shortages led car makers to prioritise deliveries of (more expensive) zero-emission vehicles. Battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) accounted for 16.6% of full-year sales which sent them above UK diesel volume for the first time. Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) accounted for only 6.3% of sales, a decline on the previous year, but more conventional hybrids (HEVs) also rose in popularity to capture an 11.6% market share. 

As a result, the UK’s average CO2 level for new cars fell 6.9% to 111.4g/km, the lowest figure ever.  

The market’s growing preference for BEVs was most strongly demonstrated in December, when the proportion of total sales rose to 32.9%, augmented by the arrival of a large delivery from one manufacturer (believed to be Tesla). The Tesla Model Y and Tesla Model 3 took first and second positions in UK BEV sales rankings, the Model Y nailing down third position outright behind the Nissan Qashqai and Vauxhall Corsa.


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