New report shows real impact of recession on motorists

01 July 2012 #SMMT News
  • Motorists keeping cars longer: average car now 7.44 years old, up two months on a year ago.
  • Past decade saw UK car parc grow 9%, a slower rise than the previous decade’s 17%.
  • Fuel efficiency demand sees diesels take a record 50.6% market share in 2011 with fewer petrol cars on UK roads than at any time since 1988.
  • Average new car 20% more efficient than UK’s average age car.
  • In 2011, the total number of cars on UK roads grew 104,519 units (0.3%) to 31,362,716.

Recession has changed the shape of the UK’s car parc according to new figures released today by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Over the last 10 years, the total number of cars on UK roads (parc) has grown 9%, but that is a slower rate than the previous decade, which recorded a 17% rise.

To the end of last year, the total parc increased to 31,362,716, up on 2010 by 104,519 units (0.3%). The average car on UK roads is now 7.44 years old, around two months older than a year ago, suggesting cash strapped motorists are keeping cars for longer.

However, this could be a false economy as the average new car is 20% more efficient than a typical seven year old car, saving the average motorist around £400 each year. In the average car’s lifetime, it will have four owners, but there are 341 cars on UK roads with more than 20 registered keepers, and more than 5.3 million cars over 12 years old.

“This year, new car registrations are ahead of 2011, but the latest SMMT report shows that with budgets tight, motorists are capitalising on the increasing reliability of new vehicles by holding on to models for longer,” said Paul Everitt, SMMT Chief Executive. “New vehicles are changing the face of motoring in the UK and it can make financial sense for motorists to invest in a new, highly fuel efficient and technologically advanced new model.”

The data comes from the SMMT’s largest ever annual Motorparc census that analyses full details including make, model, variant, colour, emissions and age of every car, van, truck, bus and coach on UK roads.

Fuel efficient nation

Motorists continued to seek out the most fuel efficient vehicles in 2011, as diesel car registrations overtook petrol for the first time taking a 50.6% market share. The growing trend of diesel registrations, coupled with the increasing share of alternatively-fuelled vehicles, resulted in there now being fewer petrol cars on the road than at any time since 1988.

With fuel efficiency at the front of every motorist’s mind, it is no surprise to see the number of tax-free cars on the road double since last year to more than 120,000 vehicles (cars emitting under 100g/km CO2 pay £0 VED).

Top five most popular cars on UK roads

  1. Ford Focus
  2. Ford Fiesta
  3. Vauxhall Astra
  4. Vauxhall Corsa
  5. Volkswagen Golf

Main growth segments over last decade

SMMT segment Growth over last decade
MPV 205%
Dual Purpose / 4×4 124%
Mini 43%
Supermini 34%
Specialist Sports 27%

Going for gold

In the race for gold, silver and bronze, Wales tops the podium boasting the largest proportion of gold cars. Silver is the UK’s number one colour, but the North West has the biggest share, while the roads of the West Midlands have the greatest proportion of bronze cars.

Top five colours in 2011 Top five colours in 2002
Colour Volumes % of total parc
Silver 8,036,332 25.6%
Blue 6,887,558 22.0%
Black 5,342,846 17.0%
Red 3,606,427 11.5%
Grey 3,103,790 9.9%

Colour Volumes % of total parc
Blue 7,105,766 24.9%
Red 6,116,160 21.5%
Silver 4,359,148 15.3%
Green 3,286,931 11.5%
White 2,575,607 9.0%

Why Wight is red

The Isle of Wight is the most popular place in the UK for red cars, but the colour’s popularity has tumbled since peaking in 1999 when 25% (6.7 million) of all cars across the country were red. Today, just 12% of motorists favour the colour with Londoners leading the trend away from red, representing just 9% of the city’s cars.

Through its Motorparc database SMMT can analyse historical records of more than 200 million vehicles, looking at over 80 categories, each broken down by region, town or even postcode. This record of the past, combined with current records covering 31 million cars and 4.3 million commercial vehicles, makes the service one of the richest data sources in the industry. More information about SMMT’s Motorparc and new vehicle registrations data services can be found at

Greatest regional CO
2 improvements

Region 2011 parc CO2 % change vs 2006
Bracknell Forest 161 -21
Slough 149 -20
Milton Keynes 160 -18
Swindon 157 -17
South Gloucestershire 160 -16
Shetland Islands 159 -15
Bedford 166 -15
Warwickshire 167 -15
City of Portsmouth 160 -14
Glasgow City 157 -13

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