New fleet and business vehicle registrations fell by a third in March, as the global supply crisis continues to affect manufacturing.

The British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) has warned that long lead times are threatening the fleet market. There was a 32% drop in new car registrations in the fleet and business sector last month, according to figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

To date this year 190,420 units have been registered – a 20% year-on-year fall.

The principal factors behind the slowdown are the semiconductor shortage, which has been affecting the supply chain since the pandemic began. But now impact is being felt from the war in Ukraine and heightened Covid restrictions in China, and such poor figures underlines how severe the supply problems are. March is traditionally one of the strongest months for new car registrations, and these figures are the lowest in March since 1998.

“The supply chain challenges that beset our industry show no sign of abating,” said BVRLA chief executive, Gerry Keaney.

“BVRLA members continue to show remarkable resilience and creative thinking in supporting their customers, but the outlook is a real concern. Lead times are extending, orders are being cancelled and most available vehicles are being channelled to retail customers as manufacturers prioritise profit margins over fleet market share.”

Demand for new vehicles is likely to be further affected by the rising costs of energy, food and fuel for households.

One bright spot from the month’s figures was the number of 100% battery electric vehicles registered – 39,315 – a year-on-year increase of 78%.  This is the highest volume of BEV registrations ever recorded in a single month and means that more BEVs were registered in March 2022 than the whole of 2019.