UK car sales in April at lowest level since 1946

The coronavirus pandemic devastated new car registrations in the UK last month. Only 4,321 new cars were registered in the month of April, according to data from the Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) on Tuesday — the slowest month for sales since the year after the Second World War ended.

The nationwide lockdown meant dealerships were shuttered all month and sales suffered a 97% drop from April last year, when some 160,000 new cars were sold. Demand was already diminished in March, as the pandemic gripped the UK and people faced massive job insecurity.

Of the cars sold in April, most went to companies for fleet cars, and many of those would have been ordered before the lockdown started.

READ MORE: EU factories’ record slump sparks highest lay-offs since 2009

“With the UK’s showrooms closed for the whole of April, the market’s worst performance in living memory is hardly surprising,” said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes. “These figures, however, still make for exceptionally grim reading, not least for the hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on the sector.”

Hawes said that safely restarting the automotive sector and revitalising what will, inevitably, be subdued demand “will be key to unlocking manufacturing and accelerating the UK’s economic regeneration.”

After shuttering their plants and furloughing hundreds of thousands of workers in mid-March, carmakers in Europe are now gradually re-starting production.

Volkswagen (VOW3.DE) has restarted Europe’s largest car plant, in Wolfsburg, Germany, while Hyundai (HYMTF), Renault (RNO.PA) , and Volvo (VOLV-B.ST) are slowly rebooting their European factories. 

The SMMT has adjusted its predictions for new car registrations in 2020 down to 1.68 million vehicles, the lowest level since 1992, and a dramatic drop from the 2.3 million cars sold last year.  

READ MORE: Volkswagen eyes profit in 2020 despite COVID-19 impact

“Though they’re drastic, April’s figures come as little surprise to the motor industry,” Seán Kemple, sales director at Close Brothers Motor Finance said in a note. “With the economy ground to a halt in light of COVID-19, new car sales have simply been put on hold. The motor industry will pick up speed, but there is a bumpy road ahead as we drive toward pastures new.” 

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