The UK’s new car market shrank for the first time in six years in 2017, with uncertainly over diesel cars contributing to the fall
Sales of new cars in the UK fell by 5.7% in 2017 compared with the previous year, with sales of diesel cars worst hit.
More than 2.5 million new cars were sold last year, with diesel cars accounting for 42% of the total market, compared with petrol cars at 53%.
The continuing uncertainty surrounding new diesel cars – including the new tax implications announced in November’s autumn budget – meant that diesel sales were down by more than 30% in December alone compared with the same month in 2016.
Despite these numbers, though, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) says that the demand for new cars in 2017 was still the third highest this decade, behind 2016 and 2015’s numbers. This is, however, the first time that the total amount of new car sales in a year have fallen since 2011.
The largest growth in 2017 came from alternatively fuelled vehicles – which includes hybrids and fully electric cars, which jumped by 34.8% across the year. It’s worth noting, though, that despite that impressive figure such vehicles only account for 4.7% of the total market.
The majority of new cars sold last year were city cars, small cars and SUVs, with the latter being the only market to grow in 2017. In fact, one in every five new cars sold in the UK last year was an SUV.
SMMT chief executive, Mike Hawes, said: “The decline in the new car market is concerning but it’s important to remember demand remains at historically high levels.
“Confusing anti-diesel messages have caused many to hesitate before buying a new low emission diesel car. Keeping older vehicles on the road will not only mean higher running costs, but will hold back progress towards our environmental goals.”
The SMMT says that it expects the UK’s new car market to remain “weak” in 2018, but that “the upside for consumers is some very, very competitive deals“.
10. Mercedes-Benz A-Class
Mercedes makes some great cars, but the A-Class isn’t one of them, because its steering is inconsistent, the ride is overly firm and most rivals are more practical. It’s a shame, because the A-Class looks great inside and out.
2017 sales 43,717
9. Mercedes-Benz C-Class
The C-Class is an executive saloon with a focus on comfort rather than performance or agility. It’s not as good to drive as the rival BMW 3 Series and its interior isn’t on the same level as the Audi A4, but spec it right and the C-Class is still a competent companion.
2017 sales 45,912
8. Mini hatchback
If you’re looking for stylish motoring, then chances are that the funky Mini hatchback is already on your shopping list. Fortunately, the Mini backs up its cute looks by being fun to drive and holding onto its value well compared with its rivals. It’s not as practical as some of the other cars in this class, though.
2017 sales 47,669
7. Volkswagen Polo
The latest Polo is one of the best small cars around – it’s spacious, quiet at speed and irons out many of the lumps and bumps you’ll find on UK roads. Interior quality can be a little patchy in places, though, and the diesel versions are noisy.
2017 sales 47,855
6. Vauxhall Astra
The latest Astra is one of the most well-rounded family cars around. It’s good to drive, affordable to buy and run and most versions are well equipped. Some of its diesel engines can sound gruff, though, and its low-speed ride can be rough – especially on broken roads.
2017 sales 49,370
5. Vauxhall Corsa
The Corsa is a rival for the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo, but despite offering plenty of space and an attractive price tag, its fiddly infotainment system and dull handling stop it from being among our favourites in this class.
2017 sales 52,772
4. Nissan Qashqai
The Qashqai is the car that started the trend for small, family-friendly SUVs and it remains one of the best following a recent update. True, there are cheaper alternatives, such as the Suzuki SX4 S-Cross, but the Qashqai makes up for its price premium with a spacious and well-designed interior, solid build quality and superb comfort and refinement.
2017 sales 64,216
3. Ford Focus
For many people, the Ford Focus is the de facto family hatchback. But while it’s fun to drive and comes loaded with kit, many rivals offer more space and feel classier inside. If you’re mainly going to be driving around town, the 1.0-litre Ecoboost petrol engine is ideal; if you need more grunt for regular motorway use, the 1.5-litre diesel is the more sensible choice.
2017 sales 69,903
2. Volkswagen Golf
The Golf is a mainstay of this list. What’s more, it’s fully deserving of its success, blending a comfortable ride with class-leading refinement and a spacious and classy interior. It may be a little pricier than some rivals and its boot isn’t the biggest around, but in every other respect the Golf is a superb car.
2017 sales 74,605
1. Ford Fiesta
The Fiesta is consistently among the most popular cars in the UK, so it’s no surprise to see the latest model take the top spot in 2017. Like its popular predecessor, this new model is great fun to drive and available with Ecoboost petrol engines that are punchy, quiet and frugal. However, it feels more modern inside and has a much better infotainment system.
2017 sales 94,533