In our preview of this year in motoring, we promised to keep an eye on the SMMT’s figures for car registrations. We weren’t lying. The latest data was published last week, and it’s quite significant data too. It shows how many cars were registered in December, meaning that we now have a complete picture for 2015.
What does that picture look like? Something like the graph above. There were 2.63 million new cars registered in the year to December; which is to say, in 2015 as a whole. This is 6.3 per cent higher than the number registered in 2014, and a full 35.7 per cent higher than in 2011. In fact, it’s the highest number on record. We’re buying cars in wholesale quantities.
The figures were buoyed by December itself. 180,077 cars were registered in that month, which is 8.4 per cent higher than in December 2014. It’s a story that has become very familiar in recent years. 45 of the past 46 months have experienced growth of this sort. The one exception is last October, when sales declined by 1.1 per cent.
For all of that, however, the most astonishing statistic is related to the rise of alternatively-fuelled cars. Last year, 72,775 were registered in total; a small proportion of the overall car market, but a rapidly growing one. How rapid? 72,775 is 40.3 per cent higher than the total for 2014. I repeat: 40.4 per cent. Petrol and diesel cars managed 8.4 and 3.0 per cent growth, respectively.
All of these growth figures are encouraging, in a way. Car registrations mean car sales which suggest improving consumer confidence which reflects a growing economy. The Chancellor will be happy.
But it’s also worth remembering some of the caveats that we have raised before, here and here. Loans for new cars are growing too, which may be fine now, but what happens when interest rates start to rise? And is it true that, as the analysts at Glass’s put it, the registration figures paint a ‘falsely buoyant picture’ that doesn’t account for the number of ‘pre-registrations’ left on garage forecourts to be sold on at a later date?
In any case, we can end this post with another, similar promise: we shall return to these themes, good or bad, in the months to come.