UK car sales plunge to lowest level since 1946

The UK car market ground to a halt in April, with new vehicle sales plunging by 97% to the lowest level since the end of the second world war because of the coronavirus lockdown.

Figures from industry body the SMMT show only 4,321 cars were registered, the lowest monthly level since 1946, this was compared with 161,064 sales in the same month last year.

The Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said that of the registrations made last month, 70% were by companies buying for their fleets. The cars would most likely have been on order before the lockdown, said Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive. “If you are told to close all your car showrooms for the entirety of April it’s no surprise sales are almost non-existent,” he told the BBC. Many of the 4,000 cars sold last month were needed to support key workers and for those who had a pressing need for them, an SMMT spokesman said.

The lockdown began on 23 March. Sales for that month fell by 44% compared with 2019, the biggest fall since the financial crisis, before the almost total freeze in April. The majority of the cars sold in April were to fleet buyers who already had them on order, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) which produced the figures.

The UK car market was already being squeezed before the pandemic, with confusion over fuel types following emissions-cheating scandals that prompted a consumer and political backlash against diesel cars. Brexit uncertainty also held sales back in recent months.

The government is considering how to ease the pandemic lockdown without allowing the disease to spread again, but there are concerns that even a gradual easing of restrictions will do little to spur car sales once more, amid surging unemployment.

To add to motorists worries, Volkswagen’s procurement boss said reduced volumes had made components more expensive, adding to financial pressures for manufacturers which are running production lines at lower speeds to allow physical distancing by factory workers.

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