What is ‘peak car’?

You’ll beg to differ the next time you’re in a jam, but an increasing number of people say the era of ever-growing car numbers and journeys will soon draw to a close.
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Driverless cars, car-sharing pools and increased restrictions on where and when you can drive… the thinking is these factors will combine to reduce the number cars on the roads. But figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) earlier this month suggest any change won’t happen overnight. In September, 462,517 new cars were registered in the UK – and there will no doubt have been a consequent increase in the number of second hand cars coming onto the market.

Plate tectonics

September (along with March) is traditionally a busy month because of the release of the new number plate, but September 2015 broke the records: it was the highest ever September total as buyers took advantage of a range of competitive deals on the latest 65-plate. The rise in September marked the forty-third consecutive month of growth in the market and pushed the total number of new cars registered so far this year to 2,096,886 - 7.1% higher than at the same point last year. It was also the first time the two million mark has been passed in September since 2004.

Go figure

You’d think the new sales figures would have the SMMT dancing through the showrooms with delight. But Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, suggested our car buying frenzy might have now hit a peak: “The market reached pre-recession levels some time ago, and we anticipate some levelling off in the coming months.” So maybe we have come to the end of the road and consumers will now apply the brakes to new car purchases. But what exactly have we been buying during these boom times for the car industry? SMMT saw increased demand for all fuel types, with diesel cars powering strongly ahead. Registrations of diesel cars were up 12.3%, against a 4.1% rise in new petrol cars. In fact, diesel cars accounted for roughly half of all the new vehicles bought in September, at 212,505. Many of these sales will have been in the pipeline before the shenanigans at VW came to light – it will be some time before we see the true impact on diesel sales. Car buyers’ concern for the environment was manifest in the sale of alternatively-fuelled vehicles (AFVs). Green cars recorded a strong month, with sales up 21.7%.

Model behaviour

The Ford Fiesta was the most popular car, accounting for 22,807 new registrations last month, or about 5% of total sales. The Vauxhall Corsa was another favourite, followed by the Ford Focus. The Volkswagen Golf and Polo took fourth and fifth place in the rankings. Quite where the marque will feature in the coming months remains to be seen.

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