New car registrations in Britain were down 97.3% year on year in April, due to the lockdown restrictions introduced to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Just 4321 cars were sold last month, the lowest levels in Britain since 1946, a year after World War II, figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reveal. A total of 161,064 cars were registered in April last year.
The figures were described as “no surprise” by SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes, with car dealerships forced to close throughout the month as part of measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. The government has begun talks to open dealers, with 11 May mooted as the earliest possible date, Autocar revealed last week.
The SMMT has said that 71.5% of those 4321 registrations were fleet orders, meaning it is likely orders came in before the lockdown. It is understood that many deliveries were to support key workers, mostly from wholesalers or direct from manufacturers via online channels. Just 871 cars were sold to private buyers in the UK during the month.
The decline in sales was reflected across most fuel types. Registrations of petrol-engined cars fell by 98.5%, diesel by 97.6%, plug-in hybrid by 95.1% and hybrid by 99.3%.
While sales of fully electric vehicles fell by only 9.7%, that largely reflected the delivery – in compliance with social distancing measures – of a number of pre-ordered sales made before the lockdown. That is reflected in the Tesla Model 3 becoming April's best-selling car, with 658 sold, ahead of the Jaguar I-Pace (367 sales). The new Vauxhall Corsa was third on the sales chart, with 264 registrations.
The Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus, which usually lead the monthly sales charts, were completely absent from the top 10 but remain the three-best-selling cars so far in 2020.
The industry body has revised its forecast for 2020 as a whole, and is now expecting overall registrations to drop to 1.68 million compared with 2.3 million in 2019.
The collapse in UK sales in April is similar to those seen in other European countries that had lockdown restrictions in place for most of the month. In France sales fell by 88.8% year on year in April, with registrations in Italy falling by 97.5%.
Manufacturers are slowly resuming production operations across Europe and the wider world as demand begins to recover. Car production resumed yesterday for the first time since the lockdown measures began in the UK, as Rolls-Royce restarted its Goodwood factory. A number of European countries have now exited their lockdown measures, too.