Coronavirus outbreak shuts factories and dealerships, causing steeper decline for car registrations than during the 2009 recession

New car registrations in the UK plummeted 44.4% year-on-year last month as the coronavirus outbreak closed showrooms and kept customers at home

The latest figures from the SMMT show that 254,684 new cars were registered in March – 203,370 fewer than in the same period last year. The organisation has now adjusted its market outlook for the year ahead, predicting that 2020 will end with a total of 1.73 million new car registrations in the UK. That's down 23% on the prediction it made in January. 

The decline is steeper than that recorded during the 2009 financial crisis and represents the worst March since the UK adopted a bi-annual numberplate change system in the late 1990s. March is customarily a busy month for vehicle retail in the UK as buyers rush to buy a car with a new-reg plate. 

While demand for petrol cars fell 40.4% and diesel cars fell 61.9%, the SMMT notes that registrations for battery electric vehicles surged by nearly 300% to 11,694 units, giving BEVs a 4.6% market share. Plug-in hybrid registrations jumped 38%, but traditional hybrid vehicles fell 7.1%. 

Demand from private buyers fell by 40.4%, while fleet registrations dropped by 47.4%. 

The Volkswagen Golf topped the best-sellers list, with 7103 units sold across the month. The Ford Fiesta followed close behind with 6687 units and the Mini hatchback was in third place with 6019. In terms of manufacturer performance, Smart was the worst hit of the mainstream car brands, registering an 85.91% drop in registrations last month. Lexus, meanwhile, saw only a 17.31% decline, while Lotus registered just 15.38% fewer cars.

A Lexus spokesperson suggested that the recent arrival of the brand's new UX crossover, along with strong demand for hybrids, helped to dampen the sales impact of the shutdown but noted that "most of the cars delivered in March were sold in the months prior, so the deliveries were spread evenly throughout the month rather than back-weighted".

The figures also reveal the impact that lockdown procedures have had on other countries’ new car markets. Spain dropped 69% year-on-year, France 72% and Italy, which was one of the first European countries to implement a general shutdown, 85%. 

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “With the country locked down in crisis mode for a large part of March, this decline will come as no surprise. Despite this being the lowest March since we moved to the bi-annual plate change system, it could have been worse had the significant advanced orders placed for the new 20 plate not been delivered in the early part of the month.

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“We should not, however, draw long-term conclusions from these figures, other than this being a stark realisation of what happens when economies grind to a halt.”

It's not yet clear when production facilities and showrooms will be able to restart operations. Ferrari was the first European mainstream manufacturer to set a date for its return, but it remains unclear whether its Maranello factory will reopen its doors on 14 April as planned.

Read more

Coronavirus and the car industry

Coronavirus: What motorists need to know​

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6 April 2020

 When we finally are a Virus free World, then the downturn in sales will recover close to what has been lost.

6 April 2020
Peter Cavellini wrote:

 When we finally are a Virus free World, then the downturn in sales will recover close to what has been lost.

6 April 2020

MG are up 50%. How did they do that?

6 April 2020

A lot of people where waiting for the electric ZS which arrived at the docks in the last few weeks.

6 April 2020

Just read on another site that Mazda has just mildly refreshed the MX-5 and slapped a huge price hike on it - the base entry model now costing almost £24k, but it was well under £20k not long ago.

Just another sorry example of what all manufacturers are doing - introducing mild 'refreshes' (which maybe extends to a different colour needle on the speedometer) to justify slapping a huge increase on the price.

Just wondering how they expect to get customers back after Coronavirus is under control, i.e. due to loads of people being a lot worse off, the price of cars now being ridiculously high and the lockdown has got people used to 'making do', i.e. appreciating the idea of tightening belts and not needing a new car, especially if working from home becomes the new normal.

6 April 2020
gavsmit wrote:

Just read on another site that Mazda has just mildly refreshed the MX-5 and slapped a huge price hike on it - the base entry model now costing almost £24k, but it was well under £20k not long ago.

Just another sorry example of what all manufacturers are doing - introducing mild 'refreshes' (which maybe extends to a different colour needle on the speedometer) to justify slapping a huge increase on the price.

Just wondering how they expect to get customers back after Coronavirus is under control, i.e. due to loads of people being a lot worse off, the price of cars now being ridiculously high and the lockdown has got people used to 'making do', i.e. appreciating the idea of tightening belts and not needing a new car, especially if working from home becomes the new normal.

My guess, the car makers are adding the cost of the EU fines for not hitting the CO2 target to the price of the car. But you are right, it will only lead to lower car sales. Strange the SMMT never mention this, everything has always been the fault of 'the war on diesel', Brexit, and now the virus.

6 April 2020

I thought that most cars are ordered a few months in advance so would have expected the main one of the two peak months to have had the cars ordered December to Januaryfor March delivery.Or is it thta the cars ordered have not been collected due to lockdown etc.You would have expected them to be collected from the dealers within the first week in M.arch ie pre lockdown 

6 April 2020

Although diesel is down significantly the diesel mild hybrid is now 4% which should be added to diesel in my opinion same with petrol ,they are so mild it is not worthy of mention.

6 April 2020

4.86% monthly market share by Land Rover who's new Evoque is in the top 10 for the second time. A lot of JLR cars are going to internal employees at Gaydon and other sites but this is still a very good achievement, maybe LR best ever market share.

6 April 2020
Why not tell us that the Tesla Model 3 whizzed past many ICE cars to appear in the top ten best selling cars of the month? It is the first time an EV has done that. Yet no car magazine is telling us that. Why?

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