New car sales plummet by a fifth as WLTP emission rules bite

September’s figures show dramatic downturn in new car market, with diesel sales down 42.5 per cent

September’s new car sales figures have revealed that 20.5 per cent fewer cars were sold last month compared to September 2017. Diesel cars saw the most significant fall in favour, with 42.5 per cent fewer people opting for an oil burner.

A total of 338,834 new cars were sold last month, down from 426,170 in 2017. The last time so few cars were sold in September was 2011, when the industry was still reeling from the effects of the global financial crisis.

• Best selling cars 2018

Economic headwinds such as Brexit-related uncertainty may be impacting consumer confidence, but much of last month’s decline can be ascribed to delays surrounding tough new WLTP (World harmonised Light vehicle Testing Protocol) emission and economy assessments. 

The new WLTP assessments require cars to travel for longer distances and at higher speeds than they did when undergoing certification under previous NEDC rules, and car makers have had to recertify every model they offer (including trim derivatives) by 1 September 2018. 

With such a high number of cars requiring recertification, test centres across Europe are understood to have been experiencing significant backlogs as car makers queue up to retest their cars.

A closer analysis of September’s sales reveals 53.4 per cent fewer Audis, 36.7 per cent fewer SEATs, 55.2 fewer Volkswagens and 31.3 per cent fewer Skodas changed hands last month compared to the same time in 2018.

Volkswagen Group companies were not the only marques to suffer such sales declines – Nissan was down 41.6 per cent, for example. But the VW Group is understood to have been hit hard by the onerous task of recertifying its vast range of cars according to the longer, tougher, WLTP tests. A number of German manufacturers, meanwhile, have reportedly faced issues in the certification of plug-in hybrids, partly as these types of car must go through longer, more stringent tests than conventional vehicles.

That wasn’t enough to stop sales of alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs) rising by 3.9 per cent last month. With petrol sales down 6.7 per cent in September, cars with hybrid, EV and PHEV powertrains were the only type of car to see an increase in popularity last month. That contrasts sharply with August 2018, however, when AFV sales shot up by 88.7 per cent. 

The figures were released by the Society of Motor Manufactures and Traders (SMMT), whose chief executive, Mike Hawes, blamed the demands of recertification for September’s sales slump: “With the industry given barely a year to reapprove the entire European model line-up, it’s no surprise that we’ve seen bottlenecks and a squeeze on supply.”

Hawes said September saw the industry face “exceptional circumstances with similar declines seen in other major European markets”. He voiced optimism, however, that WLTP backlogs would ease, leaving consumers to look forward to “a raft of exciting high-tech cars and a market keen to recover lost momentum.”

Check out the top ten cars sold in the UK in 2018…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *