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UK March 2017: Upcoming tax change triggers all-time record month

The Ford Kuga breaks into the UK Top 10 for the third time only. 

* See the Top 42 brands and Top 10 models by clicking on the title *

The February 2017 post has now been corrected with accurate model year-on-year behaviours.

With September, March is traditionally an extremely strong month for UK new car sales as it corresponds to the biannual license plate change, but this year a combination of events has allowed all-time records to be broken. The main element is a recalibration of the Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) taking place on April 1 and applied to vehicles purchased from that date forward. The changes include the end of a VED exemption for ultra-low emission vehicles. As a result, many purchases were brought forward to March in order to still benefit from the old regime and new car sales in the UK in March are up 8.4% year-on-year to 562.337, breaking a 20 year-old all-time monthly record established back in August 1997 at 525.897, this according to SMMT. This means the Q1 2017 tally stands at 820.016, up 6.2% on the same period in 2016 and here too a record.

2001-2017 March scores – Source: SMMT

All categories of buyers see sales increase yet, logically, it’s fleet and business sales that lead the charge as they can include bulk purchases that would benefit the most from a purchase pull forward. Fleet sales are up 12.6% to 46.6% share vs. 44.9% a year ago, business sales up 11.9% to 4.7% share vs. 4.6% in March 2016 and private sales up 4.4% to 48.7% share vs. 50.5% a year ago. This exceptionally high March sales figure has Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, saying: “We will see a slowdown in April, exacerbated by the fact there are fewer selling days this year given Easter timing”. The SMMT still predicts a slight sales decline over the FY2017 due to broader political uncertainties linked to Brexit.

This peculiar situation makes for some fascinating changes in the brands and models ranking. Ford more than doubles the market growth at +19% to 71.837 units and 12.8% share, similar to the share it holds so far in 2017 (12.7%). Local producer Nissan (+30%), Mercedes (+18%), Toyota (+14%) and Land Rover (+24%) also post double-digit gains inside the Top 10 but interestingly Vauxhall (-10%) and Peugeot (-5%) are the only brands to lose ground among the 10 best-sellers this month, potentially the reflection of the purchase of Opel/Vauxhall by PSA-Peugeot Citroen triggering some hesitation with buyers. Further down the ranking, Kia (+16%), Seat (+29%), Volvo (+30%), Jaguar (+69%) and Infiniti (+151%) are among the biggest gainers in market.

Illustrating its strength this month, Ford places two nameplates atop the models ranking for the first time this year with the Fiesta up 8% followed by the Focus up 22%. The Vauxhall Corsa is back up 6 spots on February to #3 despite a 8% drop, ahead of the Nissan Qashqai (+21%) and Vauxhall Astra (+17%) while the VW Golf is struggling at -17% and down four spots on last month to #6. The Mini is up 12% to 10.003 units, the Ford Kuga makes its third ever appearance within the UK Top 10 after August 2015 (#10) and 2016 (#9) in 9th position with a record 9.561 sales, and the Mercedes C-Class also maintains itself within the country’s 10 best-sellers this month at #10.

Previous month: UK February 2017: Golf pushes Volkswagen to #2 YTD, stable market

One year ago: UK March 2016: First half-million sales month this century

Full March 2017 Top 10 models and Top 42 brands below.

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