New car sales down record 97% in April
Just 4,321 new cars were registered in the month, compared to 161,064 in April 2019.
The decline is the steepest in modern times, and is in line with similar falls across Europe, the SMMT said.
Fleet orders represented by far the bulk of the market, with individuals purchasing just 871 cars – a year on year fall of 98.7%.
The figures are hardly surprising as showrooms have been shut since the UK went into lockdown on 23 March.
However, Mike Hawes, chief executive of the SMMT, said they will still make for “exceptionally grim reading” especially for the “hundreds of thousands of people” whose livelihoods depend on the sector.
He said: “A strong new car market supports a healthy economy and as Britain starts to plan for recovery, we need car retail to be in the vanguard. Safely restarting this most critical sector and revitalising what will, inevitably, be subdued demand will be key to unlocking manufacturing and accelerating the UK’s economic regeneration.”
James Fairclough, chief executive of AA Cars, said: “The industry’s eyes are firmly on the government’s next move, with dealers watching closely for any sign of an easing of the restrictions or further support for businesses forced to close.
“The big question is what will demand from consumers be like when dealerships are allowed to reopen? Various commentators have questioned whether some of those who usually commute by public transport may be planning to buy a car for when they return to work so they can continue social distancing.
“Those consumers who are in the market to buy a new car when the lockdown period ends may find there are some very competitive deals and offers available to facilitate their purchase.”
However, he warned that normal levels of credit may not be available to potential customers who want to use the car finance option.