New car sales crash by 97.3% in April as Coronavirus shuts showrooms

Published:  05 May, 2020

 UK new car registrations fell by a whopping 97.3% in April, the lowest point since 1946, according to figures published today (Tuesday 5 May) by the SMMT.   Just 4,321 new cars were registered in the month, some 156,743 fewer than in April 2019. The last time sales were so low was in February 1946, when 4,044 new cars were sold.

The decline was the steepest of modern times, and is in line with similar falls across Europe, with France 88.8% down and the Italian market falling 97.5% in April.   Fleet orders represented 71.5% of the month’s market share, at 3,090 units. Meanwhile, private buyers registered just 871 cars – a year-on-year fall of 98.7%. The was reflected across all segments and fuel types, with the numbers of new petrol and diesel cars down 98.5% and 97.6% respectively. Plug-in hybrid vehicles also declined by 95.1%, and hybrids were down 99.3%. However, battery electric vehicles saw a smaller drop of 9.7%, as some pre-ordered deliveries of the latest models were able to be fulfilled.

The SMMT has accordingly downgraded its new car market forecast for the year previous expectations to just 1.68 million registrations. This puts the sector on course to record its worst performance since 1992’s 1.59 million sales.   SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes said: “With the UK’s showrooms closed for the whole of April, the market’s worst performance in living memory is hardly surprising. These figures, however, still make for exceptionally grim reading, not least for the hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on the sector.”

Mike added: “A strong new car market supports a healthy economy and as Britain starts to plan for recovery, we need car retail to be in the vanguard. Safely restarting this most critical sector and revitalising what will, inevitably, be subdued demand will be key to unlocking manufacturing and accelerating the UK’s economic regeneration.”

Commenting, Sue Robinson, Director of the NFDA, observed: “Despite these figures, many franchised dealers continued to deliver aftersales service to key workers and the industry is now working hard to enable trading to restart with all necessary measures in place.

“The NFDA has been talking to the relevant Government departments and manufacturers to ensure work can commence safely for the benefit of dealerships’ staff and customers.”

She concluded: “Over the coming months, it will be vital to evaluate a support package that stimulates the market and ensures the long-term stability of a sector which is key to the UK economy and provides employment to thousands of people.”

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