The UK new car market declined by 35.5% in February as 28,282 fewer units were registered, according to figures published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
The industry recorded its lowest February uptake since 1959, with 51,312 new cars registered.
However, battery electric (BEV) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) continue to spark demand, accounting for more than one in eight registrations. BEVs and PHEVs took a combined 13% market share for the month, up from 5.7% in February 2020.
BEV uptake increased by 40.2% to 3,516, and PHEVs by 52.1% to 3,131 as the industry continues to promote a broad range of lower-emission technologies.
BEV and PHEV electric cars together accounted for more than one in 10 registrations in 2020 – up from around one in 30 in 2019, amid a turbulent year for the new car market.
The number of electric cars on UK roads is expected to exceed that of diesel-powered models by 2030, research by The AA has found.
However, the SMMT said increasing uptake of these new technologies to the levels required by 2030 remains a mammoth task, with yesterday’s Budget proving a "missed opportunity" given the lack of measures to support the market overall and the transition away from pure petrol and diesel cars and vans.
With showrooms closed nationwide since January 5 – and in many parts of the country, since December – both private and fleet sector demand fell, by 37.3% and 33.5% respectively. All vehicle segments saw declines save for luxury saloons, which recorded a 3.8% increase against a statistically very small proportion of the market.
The SMMT has downgraded its market outlook to 1.83 million registrations in 2021 as showroom closures continue to stall order books.
Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “February is traditionally a small month for car registrations and with showrooms closed for the duration, the decline is deeply disappointing but expected.
“More concerning, however, is that these closures have stifled dealers’ preparations for March with the expectation that this will now be a third, successive dismal ‘new plate month’.
“Although we have a pathway out of restrictions with rapid vaccine rollout, and proven experience in operating click and collect, it is essential that showrooms reopen as soon as possible so the industry can start to build back better, and recover the £23 billion loss from the past year.”