Consumer confidence can be a fickle thing, but if you're searching for signs it is on the up on the UK, you just have to look at how the car market is doing. Figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) today show that new car registrations in August were up 9.6% year-on-year to 79,060 - marking 42 months of consecutive growth. Registrations, which are comparable to but not quite the same as total sales, are up 6.7% in the year to date.
'August’s strong performance has again been driven by attractive finance deals and a diverse range of technologically advanced models,' said Mike Hawes, the SMMT's chief executive. 'Britain’s budget-conscious buyers are taking advantage of low regular monthly payments that provide certainty and affordability.'
The boost was partly thanks to a surge in 'alternatively-fuelled vehicles', a category that includes plug-in electric and hybrid cars. Although their share of the market is just 2.7%, their sales have surged by 58.4% in the year to date – suggesting that people are increasingly keen on more fuel-(and cost-)efficient models.
The SMMT hasn't published a breakdown of August's figures yet, but looking at the previous month it seems clear that hybrids are much more popular than purely electric cars. In the year to date, 3,058 pure plug-in electric cars and 2,137 'other' plug-in electric cars (which presumably includes plug-in hybrids like the BMW i3) were registered. That compared to a total of 21,436 standard hybrids like the Toyota Prius.
Registrations of purely electric cars were up 66.8% while 'other' electric cars were up 419%, so it seems motorists are increasingly cottoning on to the benefits of going electric. But the low availability of charging stations, slow battery charge times and limited range mean we've still got a long way to go before they become the norm.