Car sales are big business in the UK. Not only do we still employ thousands of workers in car factories across the country, but many British companies supply parts to those factories too, as well as factories abroad.
But it isn’t just the manufacture of cars that’s important; it’s also the sale, servicing and repair of them. In fact, more than 860,000 people all told work in all of the various different automotive sectors across Britain – so the state of the car market has a big impact on the UK economy.
After a huge dip in sales in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, car registrations started to bounce back in 2021 and early 2022 across both new and used, though both sectors face their own individual challenges, as we’ll explain below.
Meanwhile, the types of cars people are buying tells an interesting story. The prevalence of SUVs and premium brands within the top 10 best-seller lists for both new and used cars shows just how many buyers are ready and willing to pay extra for cars like these, over and above the mainstream hatchbacks and saloons that used to dominate these charts.
So without further ado, here’s our guide to what's happening in the new and used car markets in 2022 – and which models British buyers wanted to get their hands on the most.
New Car Sales in the UK
Sales of new cars took a bit of a beating last year. There were a couple of reasons for this, and chief among them was the worldwide shortage of electronic components such as computer chips, or semiconductors. As we progress through 2022, this shows few signs of changing.
The reason for this can be traced back to the pandemic. When the first lockdowns took hold in 2020, car factories ground to a halt. However, demand for electronic devices like TVs, phones and gaming consoles increased, so computer chip producers that had previously been supplying car manufacturers switched their supply to electronics firms instead.
When demand for new cars returned, the component manufacturers still faced high demand from their other customers as well. As a result, they simply couldn’t make these electronic components fast enough to meet the demand.
As a result, many car makers could only make cars as quickly as they could get hold of the chips to put in them. That slowed production down, and consequently caused a problem with supply, and as a result, longer waiting lists for customers wanting to order new cars.
At the same time, car factories, parts suppliers and dealers alike were dogged by staff absences, either due to Covid-19 itself or as employees had to self-isolate due to close contacts with people who have tested positive, which forced them to halt or slow production. All of these stoppages combined put considerable strain on the supply chain.
The results in the new car sales charts are plain to see. While sales in 2021 were up compared with the 2020, that's to be expected given showrooms weren’t even open for large parts of 2020. Unless something major changes, you can expect a similar trend to continue in 2022, with only slow year-on-year growth likely, thanks to many manufacturers struggling to supply enough cars to meet demand.
Take July 2022 as a prime example; new car sales were down -9.0% year on year, marking the fifth month in a row that registrations have declined. In total, 112,162 new cars were registered over the month.
Despite the market being down, there was another boost in July for electric car demand, with registrations up +9.9% to 12,243 cars. Plug-in hybrid uptake fell, however, with the 6,533 PHEVs registered representing a decline of -34.0% versus the year before. Even so, the growing market share of electric and electrified vehicles is bringing down average new car CO2 emissions. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the 119.7g/km average figure from 2021 was both an -11.2% decrease year-on-year, and the lowest ever recorded figure.
Referring to the July data, Mike Hawes, the chief executive of the SMMT, said: “The automotive sector has had another tough month and is drawing on its fundamental resilience during a third consecutive challenging year as the squeeze on supply bedevils deliveries. While order books are strong, we need a healthy market to ensure the sector delivers the carbon savings government ambitions demand. The next Prime Minister must create the conditions for economic growth, restore consumer confidence and support the transition to zero emission mobility.”
The 10 Best-Selling New Cars in the UK
1. Vauxhall Corsa
New sales year-to-date: 24,333
The Corsa was the bestselling new car in the UK in 2021, and remains in a strong position in the sales charts in 2022. Tempting finance deals and smart looks have helped the Corsa’s popularity along, and an all-electric variant has doubtless broadened its appeal too.
Vauxhall Corsa Review
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2. Ford Puma
New sales year-to-date: 20,006
We love the Ford Puma for its clever boot and excellent road manners. And it seems buyers are fans, too, which is all the more impressive when you remember the Puma only comes in high-spec versions with high-tech mild hybrid engines – there’s no affordable entry-level model.
Ford Puma Review
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3. Nissan Qashqai
New sales year-to-date: 19,097
The Qashqai used to be a regular fixture in this list, but with so many rivals now fighting for attention it's no longer as dominant as it once was. Nissan hopes this all-new model will reverse that trend – or that it'll be replaced in the list by the arrival of its all-electric Ariya.
Nissan Qashqai Review
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New sales year-to-date: 18,951
The MINI brand has thrived under BMW ownership, and this latest model is no exception. As with previous BMW MINIs, the range runs from a basic petrol model all the way up to hot hatches such as the Cooper S JCW. The difference in 2021 is that there's also a fully electric MINI to appeal to those wanting an electric version of one of the UK’s most popular superminis.
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5. Kia Sportage
New sales year-to-date: 18,206
A long warranty, a spacious interior, keen finance deals and generous equipment levels have helped the Sportage to its place as one of Britain’s favourite family SUVs. While it had fallen to second place in the charts by the end of February 2022, in January it was the country's bestselling model overall. With a new Mk5 Sportage just released, don't expect January to be the only time the you'll see Kia at the top of the bestseller's list. It’s a very worthy rival to the likes of the Ford Kuga and Nissan Qashqai.
Kia Sportage Mk5 Review
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6. Hyundai Tucson
New sales year-to-date: 17,173
The latest Tucson not only delivers on the good value and long warranty fronts of its predecessors, but it also features striking design, plenty of tech, and a wide range of powertrains. Crucially these include mild hybrid, self-charging hybrid and plug-in hybrid options. It also happens to be one of the most spacious and practical cars in its class.
Hyundai Tucson Review
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7. Kia Niro
New sales year-to-date: 15,527
The presence of the Kia Niro in the top 10 list shows just how important it is to provide electrified powertrains in the current market. It's far from the freshest model in its class, but with hybrid, plug-in hybrid and the fully electric e-Niro model available, buyers can pick a low emissions model to suit their needs and budget. That a new Niro has just gone on sale bodes well for this model's continued presence in the bestsellers list.
Kia Niro Expert Review
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8. Volkswagen Golf
New sales year-to-date: 15,343
The arrival of the eighth-generation version has done little to dent Britain’s enthusiasm for the Golf; indeed, it seems buyers love the flashy touch-sensitive interior and lengthy equipment lists of this latest model. And now that the range is complete with the addition of the GTI and R versions, its popularity will only increase.
Volkswagen Golf Review
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9. Ford Kuga
New sales year-to-date: 15,055
The Kuga's presence in the list of best-sellers is yet more proof that British car-buyers love SUVs. This mid-size model now outsells both the Focus and Fiesta, helped by the availability of a plug-in hybrid version with potentially very low running costs. The Kuga is also one of the more engaging SUV crossovers in its class to drive, thanks to its well sorted ride and handling.
Ford Kuga Review
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10. Toyota Yaris
New sales year-to-date: 13,027
Proof of just how right Toyota’s got it with the latest, all-hybrid Yaris comes in its strong showing in the sales charts. But another reason for its high place here is that Toyota built up a stock of semi-conductors before the pandemic. It therefore hasn’t been hit as hard by the crisis, and buyers have been able to get hold of a Yaris much more easily than some other models.
Toyota Yaris Review
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Used Car Sales in the UK
There are two sides to every coin, and the story of used car sales in the UK is the heads to new car sales’ tails. In 2021 and early 2022 there has been a boom in demand for used cars, which was for the most part driven by buyers’ inability to get hold of new cars.
The reason is simple: most new cars are sold using finance packages or leased these days. When those finance or lease deals come to an end, customers opting not to pay their balloon payments (or lessees, who have no choice), must give their cars back.
The trouble is, these customers are then finding there’s a long wait to get hold of a replacement. So, rather than go without a car for all that time, they’re turning to the used car market – either to source a cheap banger in the interim, or to take out a new finance or lease deal on a nearly-new car.
The result is that used car transactions in 2021 were +11.5% up on 2020, with 7,530,956 units registered, despite a final quarter of the year that was slower than in 2020. Moving into 2022 meanwhile, used car sales over Q1 were up 5.1% compared with the same time last year, when showrooms were affected by lockdown-enforced closures. In total 1,774,351 used cars were sold in Q1 2022, according to data from the SMMT, which also highlights that total used car sales year-to-date are still -12.2% behind the pre-pandemic figures recorded in Q1 2019.
As with the new car market, demand for used electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids continues to increase, with 14,586 and 14,433 respective registrations throughout Q1 2022 representing year-over-year growth of 120.2% and 35.3%. Despite this, petrol and diesel models still accounted for 96.2% of used car sales in Q1 2022.
But the used car market faces its own supply issues. The used market is fed by the new, with buyers part-exchanging their old cars in favour of younger, fresher models.
Among buyers who own their cars outright, however, fewer are heading to showrooms at the moment as a result of the long waiting lists, while some buyers on finance deals are choosing to pay their balloon payments and keep their cars instead of changing them.
That means fewer cars are being part-exchanged at dealers and making their way on to the used market. Combined with the increased number of buyers seeking to buy used, that’s causing demand to outstrip supply, with the result that used car values have actually risen over the past 12 months or so – a relatively unheard-of phenomenon.
The 10 Best-Selling Used Cars in the UK
1. Ford Fiesta
Used sales in Q1 2022: 73,851
It might come second in the new car charts, but in used car terms the Fiesta is king of the hill. It’s great value, great to drive, cheap to run, spacious and good-looking – and given its ubiquity, it isn’t hard to find a nice example to call your own.
Ford Fiesta Review
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2. Vauxhall Corsa
Used sales in Q1 2021: 61,236
No matter which generation of Corsa you’re looking at, it’s a seriously good value small car, with a solid-feeling interior and lots of equipment. That’s especially true if you go for one of the many special editions that are available. No wonder buyers love it.
Vauxhall Corsa Review
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3. Volkswagen Golf
Used sales in Q1 2022: 56,250
The VW Golf is one of Britain’s best-known cars, and not for no reason; its combination of efficiency, comfort and quality makes it extremely desirable on the used market. Buyers also love the wide range of engine options, while the hot GTI blends usability and driving fun seamlessly.
Volkswagen Golf Review
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4. Ford Focus
Used sales in Q1 2022: 56,250
The Focus’s excellent blend of ride and handling make it brilliant to drive, but that isn’t the only reason it’s popular with used car buyers. There’s plenty of choice simply because there are so many Focuses on the market, and that ubiquity also means cheap prices.
Ford Focus Review
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5. Vauxhall Astra
Used sales in Q1 2022: 43,527
Used car buyers often seek out bargains – and the Vauxhall Astra is just one of those. With low used values, you get a lot of car for your cash with an Astra, and the latest model is good to drive, spacious and well equipped.
Vauxhall Astra Review
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Used sales in Q1 2022: 41,831
There’s a MINI on every street corner, or so it seems – it’s the perfect car for small car buyers after something fun and fashionable, with a bit more personality than the norm. And with a huge choice of colours, decals, and special editions, there’s a MINI for every mood.
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7. BMW 3 Series
Used sales in Q1 2022: 40,965
The BMW 3 Series practically invented the concept of the sports saloon with an upmarket badge, and these days its superb handling and beautifully finished interior makes it the most sought-after of the breed, whether you’re spending £2,000 or £20,000.
BMW 3 Series Review
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8. Volkswagen Polo
Used sales in Q1 2022: 35,777
It’s a rare occasion that the Volkswagen Polo doesn’t feature somewhere in this top ten – it’s one of the classiest small cars out there, and its big-car feel is something buyers really value.
Volkswagen Polo Review
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9. Audi A3
Used sales in Q1 2022: 30,085
Buyers looking for a quality family hatchback seem to love the Audi A3. And can you blame them? Its winning blend of quality, fine driving manners and smart styling make it incredibly desirable – and used values aren’t quite as steep as you might expect relative to other cars of the same size and performance. In November 2021, CarGurus also named this Audi A3 as the best used family car you can buy.
Audi A3 Review
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10. BMW 1 Series
Used sales in Q1 2022: 30,024
The 1 Series might be the smallest BMW-badged model, but it's still a big-hitter in terms of sales. The latest model, launched in 2020, moved away from BMW's traditionally favoured rear-wheel-drive layout in favour of a more conventional front-wheel-drive setup. Among other things this helps to libeate more interior space, which combined with a high quality interior and a strong engine range makes for a great buy, new or used.
BMW 1 Series Review
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