The Society of Motoring Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has revealed petrol car sales outstripped diesel cars by 12,000 units in the first quarter of 2013 as overall car sales grew by six per cent. Motor Traders now need to adjust to the changing market conditions if predicted SMMT sales figures will be met, says industry expert Trade Plan. Over 600,000 new cars were sold in the first three months of 2013, a rise of 7.4 per cent compared to the same period in 2012 and in contrast to struggling sales across the European car market. Diesel car sales increased by three per cent but petrol car registrations increased by 12.1 per cent in the first three months of the year, putting petrol cars ahead of diesel for the first time since early 2012. Diesel cars took a 50.8 per cent market share in 2012, the largest ever recorded, with over one million sold, but early 2013 suggests the trend may be changing. Diesel cars make up just 47.4 per cent of the market in 2013 compared to a 51.2 per cent share for petrol cars. The remaining percentage (just 1.2 per cent) is taken by electric and alternative fuelled cars, according to the data.
Previously diesel car sales had moved ahead of petrol car sales because of the increase in fleet sales in the UK. Fleet users usually choose diesel engines because diesel cars typically deliver higher fuel economy and lower CO2 emissions than their petrol counterparts. CO2 emissions are particularly important because it is used as criteria for Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) – more commonly known as road tax – and Benefit-In-Kind (BIK) tax paid by business users. However, diesel cars are also more expensive than petrol models to buy and latest UK fuel prices from the AA indicate diesel now costs 141.8 pence per litre while petrol costs just 136.9 pence per litre. Higher prices for diesel cars mean drivers will have to travel longer distances before the lower fuel costs make up for the initial outlay. It is for this reason that high-mileage business cars are usually powered by a diesel engine.
According to the SMMT small cars are becoming more popular in 2013 and private sales are on the rise. This is the main cause of a rise in petrol car sales and indicates drivers no longer need the benefits of diesel-fuelled cars because they are travelling shorter distances than before. New car customers are also being tempted by increasingly frugal petrol engine options available in some of the UK’s most popular cars. For example the Ford Fiesta, the most popular car in the UK in the first three months of the year with 34,000 sold, is available with a new EcoBoost 1.0-litre petrol engine emits just 99g/km of CO2 emissions and falls into the lowest band (A) of UK road tax. The second-most popular car is the Ford Focus and that too comes with the 1.0-litre option while road tax-free petrol models can also be found in the Fiat 500, Peugeot 208, Kia Picanto and Alfa Romeo MiTo ranges.
The trend towards low-CO2 petrol cars is expected to continue throughout 2013, says the SMMT, and the number of cars sold is expected to surpass two million for the second year in a row according to the latest sales projections.