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.”