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Sales of new motors remained at almost 20-year lows with a fraction less than 1.65 million passenger cars entering the market in a ‘desperately disappointing’ 2021 for the motor sector, according to industry bosses.

This came as vehicle production was crippled by the semiconductor chip shortage and that heavily influenced a major shake-up of Britain’s most popular new cars, with Ford’s Fiesta knocked off its perch for the first time in 12 years and Vauxhall’s Corsa becoming the top seller. 

Tesla’s £42,500 Tesla Model 3 was the second most popular new car in 2021 with almost 35,000 registrations, propelling it up the order from the fourteenth best-selling motor in 2020.  

But forget cars, it was the Ford Transit Custom van that was the vehicle sold in highest numbers. 

Annual car sales were a mere one percentage point higher than a lockdown-hit 2020 – in which showrooms were forced to close for months – making it the second worst year for registrations since 1992, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders confirmed this morning. 

With manufacturers facing significant part supply issues and forced to make tactical decisions around priority of production – and consumers buying an increasing number of electric and hybrid vehicles – the list of the UK’s best-selling models of 2021 looks drastically different to how it did before the pandemic. 

Here’s a rundown of the top 10 most-registered new cars last year… 

10. Toyota Yaris

2021 registrations: 27,415

2020 ranking: 15th (up 5 places)

The Yaris picked up a number of awards in 2021. Toyota's impressive management of the semiconductor chip shortage helped the supermini gatecrash the top 10 best sellers in the UK last year

The Yaris picked up a number of awards in 2021. Toyota’s impressive management of the semiconductor chip shortage helped the supermini gatecrash the top 10 best sellers in the UK last year

The all-new Yaris was named 2021 European Car of the Year and picked up a number of different accolades last year, also boosted by the huge popularity of the GR Yaris rally-inspired hot hatch.

Glowing recommendations weren’t what entirely drove the Japanese supermini to tenth spot in the overall sales standings.

Toyota was one of the brands that best managed the semiconductor chip shortage last year, having stockpiled the essential parts. However, in August it was hit by supply issues, with the company forced to suspend production during September. Still, the impressive small car racked up enough sales to scrape into the top 10. 

Toyota’s impressive management of the chip shortage also saw it become the best-selling car maker in the United States, dethroning General Motors, which had held the crown as US’s favourite brand every year since 1931. 

9. Kia Sportage

2021 registrations: 27,611

2020 ranking: 16th (up 7 places)

Price: from £26,745 (2022 model)

Kia dealers would have been shifting their remaining stock of Sportage SUVs before the all-new 2022 car is due to arrive in their showrooms early this year

Kia dealers would have been shifting their remaining stock of Sportage SUVs before the all-new 2022 car is due to arrive in their showrooms early this year

The Sportage has always been a relatively popular family SUV in the UK, taking sixteenth spot overall in 2020. The rise to ninth spot last year is likely due to cars being available to buy

That’s because an all-new Sportage hits the market in 2022, meaning dealers would have been shifting the remaining stock of previous-generation examples. 

Why is it so attractive to buyers in Britain? Firstly, it is competitively priced – and that’s before you take into account any discounts with dealerships looking to make space in their showrooms for the arrival of the 2022 model.

But it is also packed with loads of equipment and is sold with Kia’s long-lasting seven-year warranty.

8. Ford Puma

2021 registrations: 28,697

2020 ranking: 9th (up 1 place)

The Puma is - incredibly - the only Ford to make it into the top 10 best-selling new cars of 2021, with the Fiesta and Focus slipping out of the rankings for the first time in decades

The Puma is – incredibly – the only Ford to make it into the top 10 best-selling new cars of 2021, with the Fiesta and Focus slipping out of the rankings for the first time in decades

Like the Toyota Yaris, the Ford Puma has picked up plenty of awards since it hit the market a couple of year ago, winning a string of gongs in 2020.

Incredibly, it’s the only Ford model in the top 10 list of best-selling cars, with both the Focus and – incredibly – the Fiesta dropping out of the order for the first time in decades.

Insiders suggest the reason for the pair of Ford stalwarts falling down the pecking order of registrations wasn’t a case of dwindling demand but a shift in tactics by the company as it appeared to prioritise semiconductor availability for the production of its commercial vehicles.   

The Puma officially becomes the best-selling compact SUV in 2021, retaining the accolade from 2020 by leading the expanding sector. 

7. Nissan Qashqai

2021 registrations: 29,992

2020 ranking: 6th (down 1 place)

The Qashqai has been the best-selling SUV in Britain since it first hit the market over a decade ago. In 2021, it retained that crown

The Qashqai has been the best-selling SUV in Britain since it first hit the market over a decade ago. In 2021, it retained that crown

The Qashqai has retained its crown of Britain’s most popular SUV in 2021, amassing more sales than any of its rivals yet again – a feat it has managed ever since it was first introduced in 2007. 

One big factor helping to boost the Qashqai’s popularity among Britons is the fact it is produced on our shores, with the SUV assembled at Nissan’s Sunderland factory. And a new version arrived in 2021 offering mild-hybrid technology, plenty of extra equipment, a boost in practicality and fresh new looks.

A combination of orders for the third-generation car and sales of remaining second-gen model stocks in showrooms has kept it firmly among the best-selling new passenger vehicles of the previous 12 months.

A new ‘e-Power’ hybrid is set to be made available soon, which should help to cement the Qashqai’s position among the most popular motors in 2022 as drivers switch to greener vehicles. 

6. Volkswagen Golf

2021 registrations: 30,240

2020 ranking: 3rd (down 3 places)

The VW Golf 8 hit the market in 2020, meaning it has been on sale during one of the most difficult recent periods for the automotive sector

The VW Golf 8 hit the market in 2020, meaning it has been on sale during one of the most difficult recent periods for the automotive sector

Every car maker has suffered as a result of the semiconductor shortage, with automotive giant VW also caught up in the global issue.

As a result, the Golf – traditionally Volkswagen’s best-selling new car – has slipped down the charts to sixth, having been the third most popular model in Britain behind the Vauxhall Corsa and Ford Fiesta in 2020.

Reduced outputs at the brand’s Wolfsburg plant mean the German car maker has a backlog of Golf orders to fulfil. 

The eighth-generation car hit the market last year, meaning it has arrived at one of the most difficult times for the sector.

2021 car sales only 1% higher than Covid-hit 2020

Official figures published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders this morning show the car industry continued to be hit by Covid-related problems throughout last year, most notably the ongoing shortage of semiconductor computer chips needed for vehicle production. 

Sales increased by 1 per cent year-on-year in 2021, even though 2020 was the worst year for sales since 1992 due to the pandemic and the first lockdown, which forced dealerships to close. 

A total of 1,647,181 motors were registered last year, up from 1,631,064 the year before, in what Mike Hawes, boss at the SMMT, described as ‘another desperately disappointing year for the car industry’ as ‘Covid continues to cast a pall over any recovery’ for the sector. 

He added: ‘Manufacturers continue to battle myriad challenges, with tougher trading arrangements, accelerating technology shifts and, above all, the global semiconductor shortage which is decimating supply.’

New car registrations in 2020 were the lowest since 1992. A 1% increase in 2021 means the industry is far from recovering from a pandemic-hit period, with semiconductor chip shortages continuing to cripple motor production

New car registrations in 2020 were the lowest since 1992. A 1% increase in 2021 means the industry is far from recovering from a pandemic-hit period, with semiconductor chip shortages continuing to cripple motor production 

Volkswagen overtook Ford to become the UK’s most popular car maker with a total of 147,826 registrations across all models. It was the first time on record that VW topped the manufacturers sales charts in the UK. 

Audi and BMW also sold more motors than Ford last year, with the latter having just 116,305 new motors entering the market in 2021. Vauxhall was even lower, at 91,452. 

One positive taken by sector leaders was the rise in pure electric vehicle registrations, with more sold last year than in the previous five years combined.

Some 190,792 pure electric cars were registered last year, up from 108,205 the year before, accounting for more than one in ten new motors bought (11.6 per cent) with the Kia e-Niro and VW ID.3 adding to the success of the Tesla Model 3 (read more about that below).

While sales of pure electric cars didn’t quite manage to overtake diesel registrations in 2021 (234,486 diesels registered), industry bosses say battery electric vehicle are set to surpass oil burners for sales for the first time this year.

Diesels accounted for 14.2 per cent of sales last year. 

‘Low emission’ vehicles – combining pure electric, plug-in hybrid and self-charging hybrid cars – accounted for a massive 27.5 per cent of cars sold last year, the data confirms.

But petrol is still by far the most popular type of car, accounting for 58.3 per cent of sales in 2021.

More than 1 in 10 new cars bought in 2021 were pure electric cars. Combined with plug-in and hybrid electric vehicles, the data shows that over a quarter of sales were 'low emission' motors last year

More than 1 in 10 new cars bought in 2021 were pure electric cars. Combined with plug-in and hybrid electric vehicles, the data shows that over a quarter of sales were ‘low emission’ motors last year

At present only about one in every 100 cars on the road uses a plug – a blow to the Government’s target of banning all new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the SMMT, said this needed to improve to about one in three before the end of the decade if the target is to be hit.

He both called for the Government to make drastic improvements to charging infrastructure and criticised ministers for the decision to cut electric car grants in December, saying it sent ‘mixed messages’ to consumers about the bid to reduce air pollution in the UK. 

‘The biggest obstacle to our shared net zero ambitions is not product availability, however, but cost and charging infrastructure,’ Hawes said in a statement. 

‘Recent cuts to incentives and home charging grants should be reversed and we need to boost the roll out of public on-street charging with mandated targets, providing every driver, wherever they live, with the assurance they can charge where they want and when they want.’

5. Volkswagen Polo

2021 registrations: 30,634

2020 ranking: 8th (up 3 places)

The Polo rose above its bigger VW sibling - the Golf - in the sales charts in 2021, with figures likely bolstered by the sales of remaining stocks of the previous-generation model that has recently been replaced

The Polo rose above its bigger VW sibling – the Golf – in the sales charts in 2021, with figures likely bolstered by the sales of remaining stocks of the previous-generation model that has recently been replaced

Like the Golf, there is a new Polo on the market, which arrived on sale late last year.

That means its position of fifth in the 2021 rankings is likely a result of available stock being sold to make way for the latest iteration, with order books for the latter opening around September.

This has pushed the Polo above its bigger sibling in the UK sales charts for the first time in years. 

Registrations hit 30,634 last year, which was 394 examples more than the Golf.  Volkswagen – for the first time on record – was the most popular car brand in Britain last year, overtaking Ford.

4. Mercedes-Benz A-Class

2021 registrations: 30,710

2020 ranking: 5th (up 1 place)

The Mercedes A-Class, which starts from just under £26,000, is now the most popular new family hatchback bought by Britons

The Mercedes A-Class, which starts from just under £26,000, is now the most popular new family hatchback bought by Britons

The UK has a new favourite family hatchback – and it’s a premium model.

The Mercedes A-Class now outsells the VW Golf, Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and every other mainstream family hatch on the market, and has also completely thrashed the BMW 1 Series – arguably its closest rival.

This second-generation A-Class only arrived on the market late in 2017 but has had a big impact on UK buyers and proved a huge hit thanks to attractive finance deals.

Private customers and fleet operators have been lapping it up due to its quality interior and high safety standards. This has seen the Merc move one place higher in the sales standings than last year. 

3.  Mini Hatchback

2021 registrations: 31,792

2020 ranking: 7th (up 4 places)

Despite pausing production in April due to the semiconductor shortage, Mini has sold enough hatchbacks to warrant taking third spot in the sales charts for 2021

Despite pausing production in April due to the semiconductor shortage, Mini has sold enough hatchbacks to warrant taking third spot in the sales charts for 2021

The Minis rise to the third most-bought new car in 2021 is despite owners BMW being forced to pause assembly lines at its Plant Oxford site in April, again due to semiconductor shortages.

Yet some 31,792 examples of the compact hatchback – both three and five-door models – were registered in the UK, according to the latest SMMT figures. 

This means the Mini has jumped four places higher in the popularity ranks for UK drivers compared to a year ago. 

The Mini Electric – also built at the Oxford factory – likely helped to boost sales, with the zero-emission version of the car the seventh best-selling pure-electric vehicle last year. 

2. Tesla Model 3

2021 registrations: 34,783

2020 ranking: 14th (up 12 places)

Incredibly, the Tesla Model 3 - despite its £43,000 starting price - was the second most-bought new car in Britain last year, official figures have confirmed

Incredibly, the Tesla Model 3 – despite its £43,000 starting price – was the second most-bought new car in Britain last year, official figures have confirmed

In 2020 the Tesla Model 3 set a new record by becoming the first fully-electric car to break into the top 15 best sellers in Britain.

Last year, it went to dizzying new heights and has become the second most-bought new passenger car in the country, with a massive 34,783 registrations during 2021. 

Incredibly, at the end of November the Model 3 wasn’t even among the top 10. 

However, a shipment that arrived in the final month of the year – as tends to be the case with Teslas mostly coming to the UK in bulk at the end of each quarter – saw it leap up the standings, with 9,612 Model 3s (almost a third) registered in December alone. 

The majority of Model 3 customers will be company car drivers who are taking advantage of the lucrative salary sacrifice scheme with low benefit in kind taxation of 1 per cent for electric vehicles.

1. Vauxhall Corsa

2021 registrations: 40,914

2020 ranking: 2nd (up 1 place)

The Vauxhall Corsa has brought to an end the Ford Fiesta's 12-year stint at the top of the UK's best-selling cars standings. It is also the first time a Ford hasn't been the nation's most-bought new model since 1971

The Vauxhall Corsa has brought to an end the Ford Fiesta’s 12-year stint at the top of the UK’s best-selling cars standings. It is also the first time a Ford hasn’t been the nation’s most-bought new model since 1971

The Ford Fiesta has been the top-selling new car in Britain for the previous 12 years. But it has been forced to pass the baton to a new king, the Corsa.

It will be a bitter pill for Ford to swallow, passing the gong to its nearest rival, and brings to an end a 50 year run of a Ford topping the sales charts. 

It also spells the end of a record held by the brand for half a century. The last time a car without the blue oval badge on its bonnet (either the Cortina, Escort, Focus or Fiesta) was crowned the nation’s best seller was in 1971 when the Austin/Morris 1100/1300 topped the registration rankings.

The Corsas rise to the top is down to a combination of factors, including plenty of fleet sales and the popularity of its all-electric Corsa-e, which was the ninth most-bought pure electric car in Britain in 2021.

However, the Corsa WASN’T the best-selling motor in Britain last year… 

NATION’S BEST-SELLING VEHICLE OVERALL IN 2021: Ford Transit Custom van

2021 registrations: 53,394

2020 ranking: Behind Vauxhall Corsa and Ford Fiesta (up 2 places)

Price: from £28,825 (excl VAT)

While the Vauxhall Corsa might be the best-selling car of 2021, more new Transit Custom vans (right) were registered in the UK last year. Some 53,394 entered the road, along with 34,293 two-tonne Transits (left) - which would be enough to earn it third position in the list above (fourth if including the Transit Custom), ahead of the Mini Hatchback

While the Vauxhall Corsa might be the best-selling car of 2021, more new Transit Custom vans (right) were registered in the UK last year. Some 53,394 entered the road, along with 34,293 two-tonne Transits (left) – which would be enough to earn it third position in the list above (fourth if including the Transit Custom), ahead of the Mini Hatchback 

That’s right, the best-selling new motor in the UK last year wasn’t a car but a van.

A total of around 355,000 vans sold in 2021 – up 21 per cent on 2020 and only two per cent down on 2019. 

Ford’s Transit Custom topped the commercial vehicle sales charts, amassing 53,394 registrations, which is more than any car model last year and  12,480 units ahead of the Vauxhall Corsa.

Industry insiders claim the rise in demand for vans due to the increasing reliance on deliveries during the pandemic saw Ford prioritise its semiconductor availability to its commercial vehicles. For those manufacturers that build them, vans also offer stronger profit margins than passenger cars because they are less expensive to produce. 

It also explains why the two-tonne Transit also sold in massive numbers last year with 34,923 registrations – enough to place ahead of the Mini Hatchback in the list above.

BEST-SELLING ELECTRIC AND PLUG-IN HYBRID CARS AND THE MOST REGISTERED VANS IN 2021 

BEST-SELLING BATTERY ELECTRIC VEHICLES

1. Tesla Model 3 – 34,783 registrations

2. Kia e-Niro – 12,271 

3. Volkswagen ID.3 – 11,032 

4. Nissan Leaf – 9,052 

5. Audi e-tron – 7,396 

6. Hyundai Kona Electric – 7,199 

7. Mini Electric – 6,615 

8. Renault Zoe – 5,778 

9. Vauxhall Corsa-e – 5,605 

10. MG ZS EV – 5,380  

BEST-SELLING PLUG-IN HYBRID VEHICLES

1. BMW 3 Series – 10,979 registrations

2. Mercedes-Benz A-Class – 6,495 

3. Volvo XC40 – 6,362 

4. Ford Kuga – 6,137 

5. Audi A3 – 5,755 

6. Range Rover Evoque – 4,537 

7. BMW X5 – 3,703 

8. Volvo XC60 – 3,538 

9. Range Rover Sport – 2,919 

10. Seat Leon – 2,726 

BEST-SELLING LIGHT COMMERCIAL VEHICLES

1. Ford Transit Custom – 53,394 regs

2. Ford Transit – 34,293 

3. Mercerdes-Benz Sprinter – 21,915 

4. Volkswagen Transporter – 21,190 

5. Vauxhall Vivaro – 17,597 

6. Ford Ranger – 17,830 

7. Citroen Berlingo – 12,030 

8. Ford Transit Connet – 11,498 

9. Peugeot Partner – 11.290 

10. Vauxhall Combo – 10,569 

Source: SMMT 

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