Best-selling cars in Britain 2021

The New Year began under lockdown and new car registrations are down as expected, but is there room for optimism?

Simon Ostler
Feb 11, 2021

As was expected, the automotive industry suffered an extremely slow start to 2021. Figures from the SMMT revealed just 90,249 new car registrations were accounted for during January, meaning it was the worst start to the year for new car sales since 1970 as car showrooms across the UK remain closed.

With lockdown measures in force until March, it is hoped that this slump in sales will soon be at an end as the pent up demand for new cars is finally unleashed. The SMMT forecasts that more than 1.8 million new car registrations by the end of the year, so the is hope that his shortfall can be recovered to some degree.

In all, 2020 saw new car registrations fall by 680,076 units to the lowest level since 1992, amounting to a loss of £20.4 billion in turnover across the industry. The impact of these losses will be felt throughout 2021 and beyond, as uncertainty continues to reign supreme.

It was the Vauxhall Corsa that took the crown as the best-selling car in January ahead of the Kia Sportage which led the way during what was a successful month for family SUVs. The Nissan Qashqai rounded out the top three, along with the Volvo XC40, Ford Puma and Kia Niro.

Ford also kept up appearances with the ever popular Fiesta and the Focus, while the Mercedes A-Class and Volkswagen Golf continue to prove as popular as ever.

While the overall picture is bleak, there is at least one cause for optimism as electric and hybrid cars continue to gain momentum in the new car market. There are now some 40 electric models available now, and together with plug-in hybrid models they made up 13.7% of all registrations.

Best-selling cars in January 2021

Best-selling cars by fuel

Another month, and another drop in the sales of diesel cars. Just 11,083 diesel registrations amounted to a massive 62.1% drop year-on-year - more than 29,000 diesel cars were registered in January 2021. The diesel market share was just 12.3% over the month.

Overall diesel sales in 2016 reached 1.2 million, accounting for almost half of all new cars sold in the UK. But with diesel emissions coming under greater scrutiny, and the threat of diesel surcharges and taxes growing, demand has decreased dramatically. In 2018 new diesel car registrations had dropped to 750,165 and made up just 32% of the overall market. By the end of 2019, the proportion of new cars that are powered by diesel had fallen to just 22.7%, and that trend shows no sign of abating as diesel cars amounted to only 16% of the market by the end of 2020.

Petrol cars on the other hand now make up fewer than half the UK's new car sales with 44,903 registrations, an 11.1% drop in market share compared with January 2020 which has paved the way for a boost in the electrified car market. Electric alternatives are becoming an increasingly viable option for a growing number of drivers, a total of 6,260 new electric cars were registered in January, up from 4,054 (a growth of 54.4%) this time last year.

Hybrid power also made gains across the board, plug-in variants saw a rise of 1,338 registrations compared to January last year - a growth of 28% year-on-year, while mild hybrids also saw substantial gains during January - mild hybrid petrols in particular accounted for 8,832 registrations (almost 10% of the overall market share). This gradual growth of more efficient models has led to average emissions figures for new cars dropping below 120g/km, a number that will need to hit zero by 2030.

Best-selling used cars

The latest SMMT used car sales figures show that the Ford Fiesta remained the most popular car on the used market for the fourth quarter of 2020, with 74,525 Fiestas changing hands. It's a long way ahead of the next most popular model, the Vauxhall Corsa, which saw 63,162 transactions.

As with the Fiesta's performance in new car sales, it appears totally unbeatable in the popularity stakes - a total of 289,847 transactions over the course of 2020 made it the most popular used car by some distance.

In total, 1,693,138 used cars found new homes during the final quarter of 2020, rounding off the year with 6,752,959 used car transactions in total - the lowest number since 2012 and a year-on-year drop of 14.9% compared to 2019.


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