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Car sales statistics - UK & worldwide

Dan Powell

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Dan Powell

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The number of new passenger cars being bought and sold in the UK slumped to record lows in 2021. New passenger car sales were down by 28.7% on pre-pandemic levels, with 1.65 million new cars registered for the whole of 2021. 

Experts blame Covid-19 lockdowns and a global semiconductor shortage for the UK's stalling new car industry figures. 

In February 2022 the new car market was still 25.9% below pre-pandemic February 2020, with 58,994 new car sales.  

March 2022 was the weakest March since 1998, with just 243,479 new cars sold, in what is normally the industry’s busiest month as buyers go for the latest numberplate. 

Supply issues continued to constrain the delivery of new vehicles in April, with just 119,167 cars sold. 

The UK's used car market has suffered during the pandemic, too. In 2020, the used car market fell by 15% on the year before with 6.7 million cars sold. In 2021 it fared better, growing by 11.5% compared to 2020, with 7.5 million cars sold. However, 2021 performance was still 5.5% below the pre-pandemic five-year average.

The fourth quarter of 2021 saw sales fall by 3.1% to just over 1.6 million, with December's sales dropping by 10.2% as cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 rose and restrictions increased.

In the first quarter of 2022 used car sales grew by 5.1% compared to Q1 2021, with 1,774,351 cars changing hands in the UK.

The growth in the first quarter should be treated with caution, however, given that it is compared with the first quarter of 2021 when showrooms nationwide were closed due to pandemic-related lockdowns with only online car sales allowed.

The SMMT said that used car sales in the first quarter of 2022 have been driven by a buoyant market in January and February, with rises of 17.7% and 7.4%, respectively. March, on the other hand, saw a decline of 6.8%.

Despite growth over the course of Q1 2022, used car transactions remain 12.2% below the pre-pandemic level of 2019.

Globally, the UK remains the seventh-largest market for new vehicles but this could change in 2022 with passenger car ownership in Brazil expected to grow and potentially push the UK into eighth place. 

China is the largest global market for passenger cars, buying around 25 million new cars every year. The USA has the second-highest figure for new cars sold, followed by Japan, Germany and India. 

(Source: DfT, SMMT, JATO) 

Key new car stats and figures

  • The UK's new-vehicle market is the seventh-largest in the world. In 2020, the UK registered 1,923,720 new cars and vans
  • China registered 25,239,00 new vehicles in 2020, which makes it the largest market in terms of global sales. The USA is the second-largest new car market, followed by Japan, Germany and India
  • The Covid-19 pandemic saw the USA experience one of the largest declines in new vehicle sales on record in 2020, with a year-on-year fall of 2.5 million vehicles 
  • Car buyers in the UK will buy around 1.6 million new passenger vehicles in 2021 - a figure that's 30% lower than the pre-pandemic industry average. Market commentators blame the UK's stalling new car industry on Covid-19 lockdowns and a global shortage of semiconductors  
  • Toyota sells the most cars worldwide. In 2020, Toyota sold 9.3 million new vehicles 
  • The Vauxhall Corsa is the UK's favourite new car, with 40,914 sales in 2021. Previously, the Ford Fiesta was the most popular new car and had led the annual sales chart for more than a decade.
  • Volkswagen is Britain’s top-selling vehicle brand, with 147,826 new car sales in 2021 - 31,521 more than Ford, previously the best-selling car brand
  • Grey is the UK's most popular car colour, followed by black and white
  • Demand for plug-in electric passenger cars has grown significantly in the UK. In 2014, just 2.2% of all new passenger cars were electric. This figure has grown to 10.6% in 2021, which means one in 10 new cars are electric
  • Demand for diesel passenger cars has collapsed in the UK. In 2014, diesel accounted for 50% of all new passenger car sales in the UK; however, by late-2021, fewer than 15% of new passenger cars were diesel

(Source: DfT, SMMT, JATO) 

Car sales statistics UK

New cars sales statistics

Number of new passenger cars sold in the UK by year

Year

    • 2021
    • 2020
    • 2019
    • 2018
    • 2017
    • 2016
    • 2015
    • 2014
    • 2013
    • 2012
    • 2011

Number of new car registrations (source: SMMT)

    • 1,647,181
    • 1,632,064
    • 2,311,140
    • 2,367,147
    • 2,540,617
    • 2,692,786
    • 2,633,503
    • 2,476,435
    • 2,264,737
    • 2,044,609
    • 1,941,253

New car sales by fuel type

New car sales have shifted away from diesel fuel in recent years. In 2014, diesel accounted for 50% of all new passenger car sales in the UK; however, by late-2021, fewer than 15% of new passenger cars were diesel. In contrast, petrol has increased its market share of the passenger car market. In 2014, 47.8% of all new cars used petrol. By the end of 2021 this figure was at 58.3%.

Electric and hybrid cars sales stats

Demand for plug-in electric passenger cars has grown significantly in recent years. In 2014, just 2.2% of all new passenger cars were electric. This figure has grown to 10.6% in 2021 and sales of new electric cars will increase as the UK approaches the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel car sales. 

Plug-in hybrid and self-charging hybrid cars have a respective 2021 market share of 6.9% and 9.0% in the UK. These cars are currently popular with drivers who want an electrified car with low tailpipe emissions but do not want the range constraints of a pure battery-electric vehicle. 

The sale of new self-charging hybrid cars will end in 2030, as part of the UK Government's step towards net-zero. The sale of some new plug-in hybrid cars, however, will be allowed to continue until 2035.

(Source: SMMT, DfT)  

UK car sales by fuel type 2020

Percentage of new petrol, diesel and electric passenger car sales (source: SMMT)

Fuel type

    • Petrol
    • Mild hybrid petrol
    • Diesel
    • Mild hybrid diesel
    • Pure electric
    • Plug-in hybrid
    • Self-charging hybrid

New car sales

    • 762,103
    • 198,025
    • 135,773
    • 98,753
    • 190,727
    • 114,554
    • 147,246

Market share

    • 46.3%
    • 12.0%
    • 8.2%
    • 6.0%
    • 11.6%
    • 7.0%
    • 8.9%

Used cars sales statistics

The number of used cars sold year-on-year (source: SMMT)

Year

    • 2021
    • 2020
    • 2019
    • 2018
    • 2017
    • 2016

Number of used cars sold (source: SMMT)

    • 7,530,956
    • 6,752,959
    • 7,935,105
    • 7,945,040
    • 8,113,020
    • 8,200,000

Car sales by brand

Best selling car brands in the UK 2021 (source: SMMT)

Car brand

    • Volkswagen
    • Audi
    • BMW
    • Ford
    • Toyota
    • Mercedes-Benz
    • Kia
    • Vauxhall
    • Hyundai
    • Nissan

Sales

    • 147,826
    • 117,953
    • 116,577
    • 116,305
    • 100,895
    • 97,945
    • 91,452
    • 90,817
    • 69,680
    • 68,494

Car sales statistics worldwide

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused significant disruption to the global automotive industry. Lockdowns, logistical problems and a limited supply of semiconductors has resulted in a double-digit decline in nine of the largest new car markets in 2020. 

The USA experienced one of the biggest declines in new vehicle sales in 2020, with a year-on-year fall of 2.5 million vehicles. 

China is the largest new car market in the world, with 25 million annual vehicle sales. China was one of the few countries to post a single-digit drop in 2020 with a year-on-year decline of 636,500 vehicles.

China is a global leader in the production of semiconductors which means its local manufacturing base has been able to adapt to the ongoing semiconductor crisis that has brought many vehicle production lines in the Americas and Europe to a juddering halt. 

(Source: JATO, Forbes, SMMT)


How many used cars were sold in the UK in 2021?

In 2021, there were 7,530,956 used car sales in the UK which was an 11.5% increase from 2020, although this figure is still 5.5 per cent lower than the pre-Covid five-year average.

Vehicle sales by country 2020

Largest global new vehicle markets by sales (Source: JATO)

Country

    • China
    • USA
    • Japan
    • Germany
    • India
    • France
    • UK
    • Brazil
    • Italy
    • Canada

New vehicle sales

    • 25,239,000
    • 14,551,819
    • 4,541,114
    • 3,178,473
    • 2,769,538
    • 2,048,194
    • 1,923,720
    • 1,952,624
    • 1,533,293
    • 1,553,514

Difference on 2019

    • -2%
    • -15%
    • -11%
    • -19%
    • -18%
    • -24%
    • -28%
    • -27%
    • -27%
    • -20%

Car sales by brand 2020

Total number of global vehicle sales by manufacturer

Manufacturer

    • Toyota
    • Volkswagen Group
    • Renault/Nissan/Mitsubishi
    • General Motors
    • Hyundai/Kia
    • Honda
    • Ford
    • Daimler
    • Suzuki

Sales (Source: CarExpert)

    • 9.3 million
    • 9.1 million
    • 7.8 million
    • 6.8 million
    • 6.4 million
    • 6.3 million
    • 4.4 million
    • 4.2 million
    • 2.5 million
    • 2.5 million

How many cars are there in the world in 2022?

There are close to 1.5 billion cars, commercial vehicles and buses in the world today. This figure excludes two and three-wheel vehicles, which are estimated to also exceed one billion. 

(Source: BloombergNEF, national statistical agencies)

Who is the leading car manufacturer in the world? 

Toyota is the leading passenger car manufacturer when it comes to total sales. In 2020, Toyota sold 9.3 million vehicles, followed by Volkswagen (9.1 million) and the Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi Alliance (7.8 million).

Toyota has an accomplished range of 4x4 and hybrid vehicles. The Hilux pick-up is a global leader when it comes to 4x4 vehicles, while the Corolla is one of the best selling hybrid cars worldwide. 

Volkswagen Group includes Skoda, Audi, SEAT and Volkswagen. VW's growth has traditionally been driven by the Golf hatchback. However, in recent years, the Tiguan and Polo have surpassed the Golf in global sales. Volkswagen’s new electric I.D range is expected to surpass these cars in the years to come. 

How many cars are there in the UK?

There are 32 million licensed cars in Great Britain, according to the latest Vehicle Licensing statistics.

(Source: Department for Transport)

How many cars are electric in the UK?

There are an estimated 400,000 electric cars (EVs) on the road in the UK and more than 750,000 plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), based on the latest Vehicle Licensing figures and new car registrations. 

(Source: The Department for Transport, SMMT )

What is the most popular car brand in the UK?

Volkswagen was the most popular car brand in the UK in 2021. It sold 147,826 new cars in 2021 (31,521 more than Ford, which was previously the best-selling car brand in the UK). 

(Source: SMMT)

What is the most popular car in the UK?

The Vauxhall Corsa was the UK's most popular car in 2021, with 40,914 sales. It is currently the best-selling car year to date in 2022 with 12,799 sales. 

(Source: SMMT)

What is the best-selling SUV in the UK?

The Nissan Qashqai was the UK's best-selling SUV in 2021 and the seventh best-selling car overall, with 29,922 sales. It is the second most popular SUV year to date in 2022 (behind SUV crossover the Ford Puma), with 11,846 sales. 

(Source: SMMT)

What is the best-selling electric car in the UK?

The Tesla Model 3 is the best-selling electric car (EV) in the UK having notched up 34,783 sales in 2021. That's nearly three times more than the next best-selling EV, the Kia e-Niro, which recorded 12,271 sales in 2021.

(Source: SMMT)

The best-selling cars in the UK 2022

The Vauxhall Corsa is currently the UK's best-selling car in 2022, with 12,799 sales year to date. That's 953 more than the next best-selling car, the Ford Puma and 1,464 more than the third best-selling car, the Nissan Qashqai. 

  1. Vauxhall Corsa (12,799)
  2. Ford Puma (11,846)
  3. Nissan Qashqai (11,335)
  4. Kia Sportage (11,104)
  5. MINI Hatch (10,948)
  6. Hyundai Tucson (10,120)
  7. Kia Niro (8,969)
  8. Vauxhall Mokka (8,351)
  9. Ford Kuga (8,189)
  10. Mercedes-Benz A-Class (7,962)

(Source: SMMT) 

The best-selling cars in the UK 2021

The Ford Fiesta normally tops the list of the best-selling cars in the UK but in 2021 it was the turn of the Vauxhall Corsa, which sold more than 40,000 units in a market hit by the global semi-conductor shortage and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. 

  1. Vauxhall Corsa (40,914)
  2. Tesla Model 3 (34,783)
  3. MINI Hatch (31,792)
  4. Mercedes-Benz A-Class (30,710)
  5. Volkswagen Polo (30,634)
  6. Volkswagen Golf (30,240)
  7. Nissan Qashqai (29,922)
  8. Ford Puma (28,697)
  9. Kia Sportage (27,611)
  10. Toyota Yaris (27,415) 

(Source: SMMT)