Carmakers blame Clean Air Zone ‘confusion’ for 2019 sales slump

Carmakers have blamed ‘confusing messages’ on Clean Air Zones (CAZs) for a decline in the UK new car market.

UK new car registrations fell by 2.4% in 2019 with the Society of Motor Traders and Manufacturers (SMMT) also attributing political and economic instability to the sluggish figures.

However, electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrids now take up a record 7.4% market share compared with 6% at the end of 2018.

Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) continued to dominate this sector, with registrations increasing by 17.1% to 97,850 units.

Battery electric vehicle (BEV) registrations experienced the biggest percentage growth, rising by 144.0% to 37,850 units and overtaking plug-in hybrids for the first time.

While the SMMT has welcomed the increase in BEV sales they say the market share is still ‘tiny’ and called on the government to do more to encourage growth in the burgeoning market. 

Outside of London, only Birmingham City Council has said they will charge owners of polluting private cars to enter its CAZ, which is due to come into effect in July. Bristol City Council has proposed a total ban on diesel cars in part of its city centre for its CAZ.

There was modest growth in demand for petrol cars, up by 2.2%. New diesel registrations were down by 21.8% and December marked the 33rd consecutive month of diesel decline.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said, ‘A third year of decline for the UK new car market is a significant concern for industry and the wider economy. Political and economic uncertainty, and confusing messages on clean air zones have taken their toll on buyer confidence, with demand for new cars at a six-year low.

‘A stalling market will hinder industry’s ability to meet stringent new CO2 targets and, importantly, undermine wider environmental goals. We urgently need more supportive policies: investment in infrastructure; broader measures to encourage uptake of the latest, low and zero-emission cars; and long term purchase incentives to put the UK at the forefront of this technological shift.

‘Industry is playing its part with a raft of exciting new models in 2020 and compelling offers but consumers will only respond if economic confidence is strong and the technology affordable.’

In 2019, Air Quality News attended the SMMT’s annual test day where there were 27 manufacturers showing off over 50 new models. However, only a handful of these were electric or hybrid.