Currently reading: UK new car registrations down 89% year on year in May 2020
Lockdown continues to hit new car sales heavily, but rise of click and collect saw improvement over April

UK new car registrations fell 89% year on year last month as a result of the nationwide lockdown, making it the worst May for car sales since 1952.

The latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders reveal that just 20,247 cars were registered last month, down from 183,724 in May 2019. Of these, 12,900 were for private sales and 6638 were fleet purchases.

Despite the year-on-year decline, the figures mark a near fivefold increase over new car registrations in April, when 4321 cars were sold. Click-and-collect car buying services were given the green light on 13 May, meaning manufacturers could begin selling cars again under strict social distancing measures.

The SMMT records declines in the market for every car segment and fuel type, except pure-electric vehicles, which saw a 21.5% year-on-year increase as pre-ordered premium cars - such as the Tesla Model 3 and Jaguar I-Pace - were delivered to customers. 

The Model 3 topped the UK new car sales chart for the second month running, with the 852 units delivered accounting for nearly 5% of all registrations last month. The model's relatively high sales can be attributed to the completion of online pre-orders made on Tesla's website before the lockdown was imposed. A number of sales are also likely to be to company fleets taking advantage of electric vehicles being newly exempt from benefit-in-kind tax.

April's best-sellers list featured a number of unexpected models, such as the Peugeot Rifter and Ford Tourneo Custom, but figures for May show signs of a return to normality, with the Vauxhall Corsa, Ford Fiesta, Mercedes A-Class and Ford Focus rounding off the top five. 

Registrations of plug-in hybrids were down 65.1% and petrol cars 90.5%, but diesel was hardest hit, with sales in this segment dropping 93% compared with May 2019. 

The latest decline means the overall market is now down 51.4% in the first five months of 2020, with half a million new car registrations since 1 January, compared with more than one million across the same period in 2019. 

Showrooms in England have now been allowed to reopen for the first time in more than two months, but dealerships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland remain closed. 

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “After a second month of shutdown and the inevitable yet devastating impact on the market, this week’s reopening of dealerships is a pivotal moment for the entire industry and the thousands of people whose jobs depend on it.

“Customers keen to trade up into the latest, cutting-edge new cars are now able to return to showrooms and early reports suggest there is good business given the circumstances, although it is far too early to tell how demand will pan out over the coming weeks and months.”


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Felix Page

Felix Page
Title: News and features editor

Felix is Autocar's news editor, responsible for leading the brand's agenda-shaping coverage across all facets of the global automotive industry - both in print and online.

He has interviewed the most powerful and widely respected people in motoring, covered the reveals and launches of today's most important cars, and broken some of the biggest automotive stories of the last few years. 

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catnip 4 June 2020

If what Autocar told us the

If what Autocar told us the other day is correct, and dealers are going to be offering little in the way of discounts on new models, consumers would be well advised to stay away from those same dealers and stick with what they've got.

scotty5 4 June 2020

Buy b4 it's too late

catnip wrote:

If what Autocar told us the other day is correct, and dealers are going to be offering little in the way of discounts on new models

Oh I wouldn't pay much attention to Autocar, a few hours later they posted a news story about how fantastic deals were available at the sister magazine What Car.

The same deals will be available next month, and the month after, and the month after that. Arthur Daley would be proud.

xxxx 4 June 2020

Strange times

Go back 6 months and who'd have thought a Tesla model would be outselling the Fiesta. No wonder their share is holding up

HiPo 289 4 June 2020

Tesla can satisfy high demand throughout lockdown

This statement, from the article above, is incorrect: "The model's relatively high sales can be attributed to the completion of online pre-orders made on Tesla's website before the lockdown was imposed."In fact, because Tesla sell online and can deliver cars without social contact, they have been able to satisfy the high demand for the Model 3 throughout lockdown.

EV sales were up 21.5% in May, while sales were down spectacularly for all other types of vehicle. (See SMMT website - Monthly Vehicle Data)

This tells us all we need to know about the direction of travel in the market.

The big questions looming now are:Are we mugs for still buying new internal combustion cars?Is internal combustion now suitable for classic and hobby vehicles only?What is going to happen to the resale values of polluting diesel cars in the next 5 years?