My Urban Car

UK Car market report for March 2020

March 2020 highlights

  • March has added some drama to UK car market with overall sales down 44.4% as car plants stop and dealers were closed as a result of the Coronavirus lockdown.
  • The drama doesn’t stop there though as combustion engined petrol & diesel cars crashed while pure electric car sales soared, plugin hybrid sales grew & hybrid sales remained fairly steady. Just look at the chart above showing the fall in diesel share v the rise of pure electric sales v electric cars, plugin hybrids and hybrids.
  • Petrol cars maintained a dominant 65.1% market share (including petrol MHEVs) in a crashing market but this meant pure petrol car sales fell to 153,025 from 305,163 a year earlier, a 49.9% drop!
  • The headline diesel share of the car market fell to below 20% of the market to 17.6%. However the SMMT has been messing about and shows “diesel MHEVs” (a diesel with a better starter motor) separately. Add them together and you get 21.6% diesel share in March. In numbers this meant diesel sales crashed from 117,689 to 44,796 or 61.9% although MHEV diesels increased from 2,999 to 10,229 as more diesels adopt the new starter motors.
  • While the rest of the market crashed pure Battery electric car sales (BEVs) increased to a record 4.6% market share up from 0.9% in March 2019! Thats a 511% increase in share but cars sold also increased from 3,932 to 11,694, a 297% rise on a year ago.
  • Plugin hybrids or PHEVs also saw market share grow from 1.1% in 2.7% which equates to 6,818 up from 4,931.
  • Hybrids that don’t plugin saw a rise in market share to 6% up from 3.6% a year ago but in a crashing market this equated to a small fall from 16,429 to 15,265. While the Toyota “self charging” ad campaign was misleading it does seem to have kept hybrids in the game. It’s worth bearing in mind that cars like the Prius & C-HR are very efficient compared to non hybrid combustion cars offering city fuel economy usually around the 65 to 75MPG mark.
  • Total AFV share (excluding MHEVs) is 13.3% up from 5.5% a year ago

March 2020 electric car sales – the Tesla effect

Tesla’s deliveries are normally very lumpy with shipments arriving typically at the end of a quarter and limited supplies between boatloads. This year is typical of this with 6,133 Tesla’s sold in Q1 2020 of which…5,235 or 85% were delivered in March!

Although the Fremont factory is currently closed because of the virus cars are still in transit so Tesla took a 2.06%* share of the UK market in march up from 0.16%* a year ago. All Teslas are pure electric BEVs so 44% of UK electric car sales were Teslas in this month. The Tesla Model 3 took the number 9 sales slot in the UK with 4,718 sold. For Q1 2020 Tesla is at 1.27% up from 0.12%, still a creditable 10x increase thanks to the Model 3.

*Tesla figures are listed in SMMT data as “other” in the top 10 models and “other imports” in manufacturer data. It is possible some other non Tesla vehicles are included in the numbers but if so indications are these numbers are very small.

If Tesla can divert enough Model 3 production to the UK do they have an opportunity to take a sales chart position in the top 10 for 2020. There are some factors in favour.

  • The UK is reaching the point where many buyers have decided their next car will be an EV. Once a buyer decided this they wait for the right EV and stop considering combustion engine vehicle. Total combustion engine car sales are falling in every key global market including UK.
  • For 2019 full year 9 out of the top 10 selling brands (see table below) saw their sales fall. The only brand that increased was Skoda up 0.44%
  • The brands in the 11th to 20th position are faring better with only 4 fallers and 5 brands seeing growth of over 30% in December compared to a year earlier but none are seeing the growth momentum of Tesla since the Model 3
  • In April the tax on for benefit in kind on company cars drops to 0% for a year then 1% the year after. This means a that a company car driver could cut his tax bill from around £12,000 over 3yrs to around £2,000 if they choose an EV rather than a diesel C class, 3 Series or A4
  • The Model 3 has the ability and availability to do what it has done already in California, Norway and the Netherlands.. outsell all 3 German premium piston saloons combined

So is a top 10 sales position achievable?

It’s quite a stretch. Tesla Model 3 deliveries are famously lumpy – 1,000s of cars delivered one month and almost none the next. The entry point to the UK top 10 was around 83,000 cars in 2019. That equates to a 3.59% market share over the whole year or around 7,000 cars a month. For a brand with 14,600 deliveries in the UK in 2019 thats quite a stretch. Is Elon Musk up to the challenge? Top 10 will probably have to wait till the RHD Model Y arrives but never say never.

2019 sales charts in December with annual increase decrease for 2019 – By Brand

Brands with falling sales for the full year 2019 highlighted in bold.

% Market share Dec% change
% change
2019 YR
14Land Rover4,3162.9-0.12-1.75
19Tesla -Other Imports2,8731.93517.85205.4
33Other British3460.23110.985.49
34Alfa Romeo2020.14-21.71-17.98

Diesel sales are dominated by fleet sales and luxury brands

AFV – hybrid, plugin hybrid & electric

Hybrid, Plugin hybrid (PHEV) sales included in our monthly snapshot along with Electric vehicles that form a small but growing share of AFV sales so we cover them separately below.

The UK alternatively fuelled vehicle stats now include MHEV or “mild hybrid” models. Only electrified in a marketing sense these so called hybrids are standard petrol & diesel MHEVs can’t travel an inch on electric drive & offer a tiny CO2 / Economy benefit of around 4%. MHEV sales will grow for a while as they will become the final iteration of pure fossil fuel combustion engine technology. We will not include them in our AFV figures

David Nicholson

David Nicholson Is the founder of Rivergecko Ltd & MyUrbanCar which provide consultancy and advice for drivers and fleets to speed the transition from dirty fossil fuel transport to clean vehicles powered by renewable energy on land water and air.

The @MyUrbanCar twitter feed is a source of news & reviews of electric & plugin cars and vans in the UK.
The @rivergecko twitter feed & websites bring news and opinion on cleantech transport including cars, vans, buses, trucks, shipping, rail & aviation as well as autonomous vehicles & renewable energy, air pollution & motor industry news.

David Nicholson has worked as an underwriter at Lloyd's of London since the 1980's. His interest in technology goes back many years including interactive mapping, apps, green tech, boats, solar and cars.