The struggling industry was not hit as hard as feared by the recession, with just short of two million new vehicles sold in 2009, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
Full-year sales fell 6.4% from 2008’s total to 1,994,999 vehicles. New registrations in December rose by 38.9%, helped by consumers looking to beat the VAT increase.
SMMT chief executive Paul Everitt, says: “The yearly figure was “significantly above early expectations, reflecting the positive impact of the scrappage scheme, which is due to end in February.”
The scheme, which offers a £2,000 incentive to scrap old cars, has accounted for more than a fifth of all new car registrations since it came into effect on 18 May 2009.
In the first six months of the year, new car sales fell by 25.9%. In the second half of the year, they rose by 21%. The Ford Fiesta was the best-selling model of the year, followed by the Ford Focus.
However, there is now concern in the industry that sales will retreat once the scrappage scheme comes to an end. The SMMT estimates that 2010 sales will fall back to below 1.8 million.
“Another tough year awaits the UK motor industry in 2010, with new car registrations expected to be below 2009 levels and only limited recovery in the van and heavy commercial vehicle markets,” says Everitt
He adds: “Sustaining the progress made in the latter part of 2009 will require stronger demand from fleet and business buyers, alongside the greater availability and affordability of credit and finance.”
The SMMT also said that average new car CO2 emissions continued to fall.
On average, new cars registered last year emitted 149.5g of CO2 per kilometre – a 5.4% reduction on 2008 levels.