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March saw new car sales slump 44%

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

The UK new car market declined 44% in March, a steeper fall than during the financial crisis, figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reveal.

There were 254,684 new car registrations in March 2020, down from the 458,054 recorded a year earlier.

This is a steeper fall than during the financial crisis and the worst March since the late nineties, with 203,370 fewer cars sold in the month, according to the SMMT.

March is typically a ‘good’ month as new registration plates come out, but with showrooms closed due to the coronavirus, the SMMT has downgraded the 2020 outlook to 1.73 million units, a 23% reduction on previous estimates.

However, registrations of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) rose almost three-fold in the month to 11,694 units, accounting for 4.6% of the market, while plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) grew 38%.

Uptake of hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), however, fell 7.1%, perhaps off the back of the government’s announcement to bring forward plans to ban the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid vehicles by five years to 2035.

Diesel sales fell 62% and petrol sales also declined 50% in March compared to March 2019.

‘Uncharted territory’

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, 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. 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.

“How long the market remains stalled is uncertain, but it will re-open and the products will be there. In the meantime, we will continue to work with government to do all we can to ensure the thousands of people employed in this sector are ready for work and Britain gets back on the move.”

James Fairclough, CEO of AA Cars & AA Financial Services, said: “March might go down in history as the most polarised month ever for new car sales.

“It began fairly briskly, with the new licence plates attracting a steady stream of would-be buyers to dealerships. But it ended with the sector on lockdown.

“Many dealers have now closed their doors in line with government advice, and the motor industry as a whole is entering uncharted territory.

“Car buyers continue to research and view cars for sale online, and can still purchase online if necessary. Many dealers will be able to arrange a “virtual” online view of the car and will be happy to transact online and deliver the car to you.”

“The motor industry, like virtually every sector of the economy, is going to face unprecedented challenges in the weeks and months ahead. Hopefully the industry will be ready to start selling cars again as soon as circumstances allow.”