Best-selling cars in Britain 2020

New car registrations continued to flounder over the festive period, and prolonged uncertainty will continue to shroud the market in 2021

Simon Ostler
Jan 12, 2021

The new car sales slump continued in the UK in December as just 132,682 registrations were made, rounding off 2020 with an overall total of 1.6 million new cars sold, a substantial drop compared to the 2.3 million made in 2019.

In all, 2020 saw demand for new cars 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 as we head into the New Year.

Perhaps more importantly than that headline figure however is the relentless advancement of electric cars. December saw fully-electric cars outsell diesel for the first time to become the second most popular market after petrol models. Together with plug-in hybrids and conventional hybrids, the electrified market accounted for over 25% of registrations in the month.

It was the Tesla Model 3 that the took the crown as the best-selling car in December ahead of the new Volkswagen Golf which continued its strong start to life. Ford also kept up appearances with the ever-popular Fiesta and the new Puma crossover, and the Fiesta once again maintained its status as the most popular car of the year in 2020.

It was also a first big month of sales for the Volkswagen ID.3, highlighting the growing market that has appeared for electric cars as it outsold a number of big name models including the Nissan Qashqai, Volvo XC40 and Vauxhall Corsa. The Mercedes A-Class continued to provide competition in the larger family hatchback sector as it too delivered another relatively strong month of sales.

Ford finished off the year as the outright market leader in 2020, with three models inside the top ten best-sellers of the year, so it's no surprise the manufacturer saw its overall market share of 9.37% remain above that of Volkswagen (9.09%), BMW (7.08%) and Mercedes (6.80%).

Best-selling cars in December 2020

Best-selling cars by fuel

Another month, and another drop in the sales of diesel cars. Just 15,813 diesel registrations amounted to a massive 52.5% drop year-on-year - more than 33,000 diesel cars were registered in December 2019. The diesel market share was just 11.9% 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 now make up only 16% of the market at the of 2020.

Petrol cars on the other hand now make up just under half of the UK's new car sales, while electric cars are now beginning to pick up some momentum. Electric alternatives are becoming an increasingly viable option for a growing number of drivers, a total of 21,914 electric cars were sold in December, up from 4,939 (a growth of 343.7%) this time last year.

Hybrid power also made gains across the board, plug-in variants saw a rise of 4,627 registrations compared to December last year - a growth of 103.3% year-on-year, while mild hybrids also saw substantial gains during December - mild-hybrid petrols in particular accounted for 13,629 registrations (over 10% of the overall market share). Manufacturers planning to launch a raft of electric cars over the course of 2021 will be hoping this trend continues.

Best-selling used cars

The latest SMMT used car sales figures released in November 2020 show that the Ford Fiesta remained the most popular car on the used market for the third quarter of 2020, with 92,173 cars changing hands. It's a long way ahead of the next popular model, the Ford Focus, which saw 76,443 transactions.

As with the Fiesta's performance in new car sales, it appears totally unbeatable in the popularity stakes - as it was also the most popular used car for 2019 too, accruing 351,767 transactions for the year.

In total, 2,168,599 used cars found new homes during the third quarter of 2020 - the busiest period since 2016, which is perhaps accounted for by the relative lack of activity in the new car market thanks the on-going pandemic.


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