Are you in the market for a new ‘15’ plate car?

We’re fast approaching the release of new ‘15’ registration plates on March 1. Will this be a trigger for you to buy a brand-new car, or take advantage of the market for ‘new’ secondhand models that swells each spring?

Bumper sales

If 2014 is anything to go by, Brits have plenty of appetite for a new set of wheels. New car registrations hit a 10-year high of nearly 2.5 million last year, the most in any calendar year since 2004. There were a bumper 2,476,435 new car registrations in 2014, 9.3% more than the previous year. In fact, only 2002, 2003 and 2004 recorded bigger numbers.

Making big ends meet

The figures have no doubt spread joy to car showrooms across the country, and will have whetted salesmen’s appetites for the season to come. But can we afford to splash the cash on a new car? Surely households are struggling to make ends meet? Mike Hawes, chief executive of SMMT, the motor industry association, thinks the increase in sales was fuelled by a growth in consumer confidence. He says: “UK new car registrations returned to pre-recession levels in 2014, as pent-up demand from the recession years combined with confidence in the economy saw consumer demand for the latest models grow consistently and strongly.”

Ford ahead

Last year’s best sellers won’t come as any surprise. The Ford Fiesta is top of the table with 131,254, some way ahead of the Ford Focus in second place with 85,140. The Vauxhall Corsa is next in line at 81,783, followed by the Volkswagen Golf at 73,880. In fifth place comes the Vauxhall Astra with 59,689.

Running in

Consumers might be more confident, but the demand for small cars with lower running costs suggests they still count the pennies when buying a car. Minis and superminis now account for about 40% of the new car market, with many buyers impressed by the safety and comfort levels on offer in a small car.

Alternator alternatives

Cars that run on alternative fuel are also gaining in popularity. Again, our interest is partly driven by the economics of ultra low emissions. Registrations of plug-in cars, for example, increased four-fold from 3,586 in 2013 to 14,498 in 2014. There is also now a wider range and greater awareness of low emission cars, so they are seen as a credible and viable alternative to a standard vehicle.

Model behaviour

Consumers have a choice of more than 20 models, compared with just six in 2011. They come in all shapes and sizes, too, including hatchbacks, SUVs and coupés. They are certainly no longer niche vehicles, as each of the 10 best-selling brands in the UK has an ultra low emission vehicle in its range. A variety of new plug-in models are due on the forecourts this year. The SMMT therefore expects the sector to continue to expand, though it still accounts for only a tiny percentage of total sales.

Sense of purpose

Car purchases are not all about cost cutting and fuel economy. There is also a growing trend for dual and multi purpose vehicles, such as 4x4s. These large gas guzzlers now account for almost 20% of the market. The UK kept its position as the second largest market in the EU, behind Germany. It also came second in the EU growth tables for 2014, pipped to the post by Spain, mainly thanks to a scrappage scheme.

Auction stations

It’s not just the new car sector that’s powering ahead. The average price of a used car also went up in December 2014 to the second highest on record, according to data from British Car Auctions (BCA). The average value across all types of used car rose by 5.7% in December, or £434. The shortage of good quality used cars helped to push up prices and Simon Henstock, BCA’s UK Operations Director, is optimistic about the future. He says: “The early days of trading in 2015 have been exceptionally busy and with the new plate on March 1st only weeks away, we are entering one of busiest periods for the motor trade.”

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