Brexit and tax changes have caused the biggest drop in UK car sales since the financial crisis

  • UK car registrations fall for the first time since 2011, and see their biggest drop since the financial crisis in 2017.
  • 2.54 million new vehicles were registered over the year, a fall of 5.7% since 2016.
  • Brexit uncertainty and new levies on diesel cars are the drivers of the slowdown.

LONDON – The number of new cars bought in the UK fell by the largest percentage since the height of the global financial crisis last year, according to new data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) released on Friday.

The data showed that there were 2.54 million vehicles registered in the UK during 2017, a fall of approximately 5.7% from the previous year.

That represents the biggest year-to-year drop in the industry since 2009, when the UK was gripped by the recession triggered by the financial crisis. Not only did 2017 see the biggest drop since the crisis, it also marked the first annual sale in sales in six years, the SMMT said.

Here’s the chart:

Annual registrations 2000 to 2017SMMT

Two main factors are behind the drop, with the most obvious being the economic uncertainty that has gripped the country since Brits chose to leave the European Union in June 2016. Both business and consumer confidence has plunged since the vote, with Brits deferring major purchases as they wait to see what the eventually impact of leaving the EU will be on their pockets.

Brits are also buying fewer cars overall because of a surge in anti-diesel car sentiment since the revelations about Volkswagen and other manufacturers cheating on emissions tests.

Diesel purchases have also dropped after the government announced that it would introduce a levy on diesel that fail to meet the latest emissions standards, which will come into effect in April.

Friday’s numbers look bleak, and they could get worse – the SMMT forecasts a drop of as much as 7% in 2018 – but things are not so bad, as “the market is still close to historic highs,” according to the SMMT’s Chief Executive Officer Mike Hawes.

“We need to put it into context. This was still the third best year in a decade and the sixth best ever.”

“Nevertheless we are seeing a decline, which is a concern,” he added.

“2017 has undoubtedly been a very volatile year and the lacklustre economic growth means that we expect a further weakening in the market for 2018. The upside for consumers, however, is some very, very competitive deals.”

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