Ian Plummer, Auto Trader's commercial director offers his perspective on the latest new car registrations from the SMMT
All signs point to positive as forecourts re-open
“Given the environment, March's performance was solid and a positive reflection of how well retailers have embraced online retailing. On Auto Trader, we saw a record month for consumers viewing new cars and generating new car leads. In fact, March overall audience figures for Auto Trader have set a new record, with visits and time on site up 27% and 22% respectively over 2019 levels. In addition, consumers viewing a new car on Auto Trader in March was up 13% month-on-month and up a staggering 49% year-on-year. New car leads broke a new record with a 29% increase month-on-month and a huge 184% increase year-on-year. These metrics coupled with high consumer confidence, higher savings and less debt* suggest demand for cars will be high when forecourts re-open.
“Specifically, in March we’ve seen an increase in premium car sales. The last year has seen a growth in middle- and higher-income households and this is likely to have translated into premium brands getting a ‘pandemic boost’, as people who can afford to splurge may be treating themselves to higher end vehicles.
“In the last few months we’ve also seen a continued rise in van sales. Van demand surged last summer, but with lockdown related supply issues that lasted into the autumn we’ve now seen this demand continue to flow through into sales in recent months. This is reflective of the fact consumers have been shopping online during lockdown, many new businesses have emerged with a need for transport to deliver and many of us have looked to home improvements which has no doubt created business for the building trade.
“Importantly, we’ve seen a significant increase in sales for alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs). Despite the higher up-front costs, consumers are looking to make more environmentally friendly vehicle choices. However, these cars still risk only being a privilege of the ‘few’ rather than the ‘many’ and whilst a surge in sales in March is something to be celebrated there is still more to do to incentivise consumers to look to these vehicles as viable options.
“As we go into April and forecourts begin to re-open, all the signs are positive that the demand is there as consumers flock to finally see, touch and smell the new car that they’ve researched over lockdown. So, whilst the key sales month of March was significantly down on normal volumes, we’re confident we’ll see retailers make up for it with a very strong April performance.”
*The latest Bank of England findings indicate average household finances are in better shape than they were pre-COVID, with savings around five times as much as in any other nine-month period and a reduction in debt. This aligns to our own research which shows that consumers' confidence in being able to afford their next car remains very high.