Editor's welcome: 2015 - the year of the new car buyer, CAR+ February 2016

Published: 20 January 2016

► Editor Phil McNamara on a record year for UK car sales
► But why did 2.63m Brits buy a new car?
► Our expert ponders where car buying is headed 

Did you buy a new car in 2015? I’ll bet many CAR readers couldn’t resist scratching that itch for new metal, helping propel the UK car market to a record year. More than 2.63m new cars were registered, an unprecedented peak far removed from the trough of 2009, when 1.99m cars found new owners.

Rather than being bought outright, around 80% of registrations were financed, with the vast majority of those on PCPs. With consumer confidence high, interest rates low and manufacturers keen to drive volume with eye-catching monthly fees, it’s a tempting way for car lovers to keep cycling through new cars every few years. 

So who were 2015’s winners and losers? The UK’s Blue Oval addiction (39 years as best-selling brand) shows no sign of abating, with the Fiesta the nation’s favourite car for the seventh year running. The Focus also took the bronze medal behind Vauxhall’s Corsa. The top 10 was more dynamic and surprising in the lower ranks: the new(ish) Mini replaced Fiat’s ageing 500 in ninth, and Vauxhall’s Mokka elbowed the Juke out of the top 10.

Therein lies a seemingly unstoppable trend: the rise of the crossover/SUV. The jacked-up chewed up 13% of the market, with Brits buying an additional 62,000 of them compared with last year. Nissan’s Sunderland-built Qashqai alone accounted for 60,814 units of the 355,000 sold.

BMW, Audi and Mercedes registered almost two cars for every one that the French brands mustered, not that the stranglehold of the German brands is anything new. The new XE helped Jaguar volumes grow by 30% – and they’ll surge again in 2016, thanks to the new XF and this month’s cover star, the F-Pace – though the 142,000 gap between it and BMW will take some bridging. 

And what of Volkswagen? It’s still the UK’s third most popular brand, ahead of BMW and behind Vauxhall, with registrations climbing 4% overall. But that’s a little behind total market growth, and registrations dipped every month in the final quarter. We know dieselgate had an impact, and it will be fascinating to see how the brand fares in 2016, especially with the Tiguan being the only significant new model in showrooms.

Diesel’s market share dipped from 50 to 48.5%, but the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders vows dieselgate won’t cause a wholesale defection from the black pump: motorists are too obsessed with fuel economy. Alternative fuel vehicles surged 40%, the plug-in Mitsubishi Outlander being the top-seller with 11,681 registrations, closely followed by Toyota’s Yaris and Auris hybrids. The best-selling pure electric car? Nissan’s Leaf, which racked up 5236 units. Combined, however, hybrid and electric cars accounted for just 2.8% market share. Good job the government recently decided to renew the plug-in vehicle subsidy: car makers need all the help they can get to ensure this market takes off.    

By Phil McNamara

Editor-in-chief of CAR magazine