Step it up: Car sales increase as showroom reopening nears

Published:  06 April, 2021

New car sales were up 11.5% in March with 283,964 units registered, the first increase since August, but the wider picture shows that registrations are still 36.9% below March average of 450,189 seen between 2010 and 2019 according to the latest figures from the SMMT.

Growth came almost entirely via fleets, where there was a 28.7% increase in registrations. Retail consumer demand remained low, falling by 4.1% compared to March 2020.

Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) took a combined market share of 13.9%, up from 7.3% last year, with available models increasing from 72 to 116. Registrations of BEVs increased by 88.2% to 22,003 units, while PHEVs rose by 152.2% to 17,330. Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) also rose 42% to reach 21,599 registrations.

For the sector to return to its pre-pandemic levels, the SMMT says around 8,300 new cars will need to be registered on every trading day for the rest of the year. The daily average has been 7,400 a day during the past decade with current levels closer to 5,600 per day.

Due to lockdown restrictions, sales have been taking place via click and collect, but with showrooms able to open from Monday 12 April, SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes is confident that buyers will be coming back in large numbers: “The past year has been the toughest in modern history and the automotive sector has, like many others, been hit hard. However, with showrooms opening in less than a week, there is optimism that consumer confidence – and hence the market – will return. We know we will see record breaking growth next month given April 2020 was a washout, but a strong and sustainable market is possible if customers are attracted to the choice and competitive offer the industry is able to provide within the safest of showroom environments.”

He added: “New plug-in models are already helping drive a recovery but to convince more retail consumers to make the switch, they must be assured these new technologies will be convenient for their driving needs and that means, above all, that the charging infrastructure is there where they need it, and when they need it.”

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