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Demand for new cars down 44% in March




The number of new cars sold in the UK in March fell by 44% compared with last year, industry figures show.

Some 203,000 fewer new cars were registered in March than during the same month in 2019, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

The performance represents a steeper fall than during the 2009 financial crisis and is the worst March since the late 1990s, when the market changed to the biannual number plate change system.

Several other European countries went into coronavirus lockdowns earlier than the UK, meaning their fall in demand for new cars was more significant.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Sales in Italy declined by 85% last month, while France and Spain saw decreases of 72% and 69% respectively.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes 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 biannual plate change system, it could have been worse had the significant advance 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.”

Last month’s drop in UK sales was driven by a fall in demand from private consumers (-40%) and fleet buyers (-47%).

Registrations of diesel cars declined by 62%, while petrol models were down by 50%.

The UK’s automotive industry was already struggling from falling sales blamed on weak consumer confidence and confusion over what fuel technology to buy.

The SMMT said many car showrooms are likely to remain closed for the coming weeks, but companies are still working to ensure deliveries are made to critical workers.

It has lowered its expectations for sales across the whole year to 1.73 million, which would be 25% down on 2019.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “We remain in close contact with automotive companies during this challenging time.

“Our significant financial support for businesses, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, will enable UK car makers to retain their staff so they can be up and running quickly when the pandemic ends.”


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