Why falling car sales could make 2020 the perfect time to buy

  • UK car sales falter - meaning discounting is rife
  • Could 2020 be a good time to buy your next car?
  • How to play the market to your advantage

The UK new car market posted its worst performance for seven years in 2019 – and the forecasts for 2020 are no better. But while this may be bad news for manufacturers and salesmen left out of pocket, it could be just the tonic for canny buyers wanting to snap up a bargain.

Official figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), which monitors new-car registrations, reported that sales slumped to 2.37 million vehicles last year, a decline of 2.3%. And it's predicting that the market will shrink further in 2020.

Buyers can use this intel to their advantage. If you know which models, fuel types and bodystyles are unloved, you may well unearth a bargain.

Revealed: Parkers guide to the best cars in every market

How to spot a bargain in a weak market

We would start by looking at the brands doing well - and those which are struggling. Very few manufacturers grew sales in 2019, but these brands managed decent upturns:

>> Alpine  Unrestricted supply of successful A110 sports car drove sales up 20%
>> Dacia  
On-trend value brand proving popular with Brits, sales rose 28%
>> Lexus  
Proof that the UK increasingly loves a hybrid: up 27% last year
>> MG  Cheap prices, new crossovers helped grow UK sales by 44% in 2019
>> Porsche  Upmarket sports cars - especially the new 911 - drove 23% increase
>> SEAT  VW-on-a-budget proposition is working: UK sales up 9% last year
>> Volvo  
Scandi chic design and a spot-on product line-up meant a 12% boom

Logically, you would assume that their dealers will be under less pressure to offer big incentives (although you should still ask!).

In this day and age of internet shopping and Black Friday deals, it's pretty much all-year-round sales...

Shop around for the best deals in 2020

On the other hand, the following brands all suffered considerable, double-digit falls in their UK sales in 2019. It's likely that sales staff at these brands will be more likely to engage in discounting to shift stock and correct their weak performance in 2019:

>> Abarth  Sales fell by a huge 39% in the UK in 2019 - expect bargains galore
>> Alfa Romeo  If you're bored of German execs, why not try an Italian? Sales dipped 18%
>> DS  Citroen's upmarket brand fell by 15% last year, so we'd be tempted to ask for a deal
>> Fiat  Parent company of Abarth and Alfa also suffered: 16% drop means incentives likely
>> Honda  We rate many Honda products - and with a 17% fall in sales, it's worth a shout
>> Infiniti  'Nissan's Lexus' is exiting the UK, so approach with caution: big deals abound though
>> Maserati  With sales dropping by more than a quarter, now could be the time to buy
>> Mitsubishi  Big 23% fall in UK sales in 2019 likely to spell bargains aplenty
>> Smart  Small cars, big savings? With sales nearly halving, now's a good time to shop
>> SsangYong  Registrations plummeted by a third last year. We'd be tempted to look

Pick a slow-selling model, haggle hard and save money

It's not just about selecting the manufacturers or brands suffering the most. Volvo might be enjoying long queues of buyers wanting to snap up its in-vogue SUVs, but it is finding it harder selling its traditional saloons and estates. So while savings on an XC60 might be hard to track down, you'll find more significant discounts on the S60 and V90

Only two segments of the new-car market grew last year: SUVs and sports cars. If you're shopping for a more humble hatchback, you could be in luck. So-called superminis (small hatches such as the Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa) shrank by 6% while mid-sized hatchbacks (think Renault Megane or Kia Ceed) fell by 4%. Picking under-performing bodystyles is a clever way of sniffing out the best potential deals. That may mean swerving the vogueish crossover crowd...

Diesel car sales down in the UK - could be good discounts to be had

Brits are also deserting diesel cars in droves - sales collapsed by 22% in 2019, as buyers were scared off in the wake of the Volkswagen-led diesel emissions scandal of 2015. This follows dramatic falls in 2016, 2017 and 2018 - diesels now account for only a quarter of the UK market, down from well over half of all sales before the crisis. 

Our advice is not to be scared off a diesel, especially if you are a high-mileage driver. With falling demand, now could be the time to snap up an oil-burning bargain.

And if you fancy taking the plunge and joining the electric revolution? It seems the UK is slowly turning on to the potential saving of an electric vehicle (EV): sales of pure battery electric cars shot up 144% in 2019, while hybrids grew by 17%. End result? You may be joining the queue to buy a fancy EV - so don't expect huge discounts just yet. And don't forget that the Government's Plug In Car Grant is due to expire in March 2020, so the £4500 official discount may dry up too.

If you do sniff out a good new car deal, don't forget to let us know. We round up all the best discounts and savings in our weekly Deal Watch page here.