New car registrations in the UK declined by 97.3% in April to just 4321 sales, due to the coronavirus lockdown. It was the fewest cars registered in a single month since 1946.
The bleak figures had been widely expected, with dealerships closed for the entire month and the British public instructed to stay at home except for essential reasons. Registrations had fallen by 44.4% year on year in March, despite lockdown restrictions being in place for only part of the month.
The UK car sales slump is similar to those experienced in other European countries that have also been under lockdown measures to combat the spread of Covid-19. Sales of new cars in April declined by 88.8% in France and 97.5% in Italy.
Even though they were expected, the figures still make for, in the words of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) boss Mike Hawes, “exceptionally grim reading”. So what lessons can be learned from them?
How Tesla topped the sales chart
The Tesla Model 3 was the UK’s best-selling car in April. But what would otherwise seem a stunning result could be considered as something of a pyrrhic victory: just 658 examples of the electric saloon were registered. Compare that with April 2019, when the Ford Fiesta topped the list with 5606 registrations.
Tesla’s success was down to its online sales system, with buyers pre-ordering their cars. The company already had a direct delivery system in place for new models and, since the lockdown, has been able to introduce a contactless handover system. This was offered both with deliveries and at Tesla dealers, with all paperwork conducted through the company’s app and customers gaining access to cars through their smartphones.
The relative success of the Model 3 and I-Pace meant that EV sales fell only 9.7% year on year, whereas sales of all other powertrains fell by more than 97%.
Why fleet sales fared better
Of the 4321 cars sold in April, just 871 were delivered to private buyers. The rest were fleet orders, many of those to care workers and organisations offering vital services such as the NHS. Sales to key workers have been permitted to ensure they can fulfil their roles.