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Coronavirus: UK car sales set to surge — temporarily

Research by What Car? suggests nearly one-in-five buyers are looking to buy a car this month. Photo: Ina FASSBENDER / AFP via Getty Images

Car sales are expected to get a much-needed boost on Monday, when showrooms reopen across the UK. But it’s unlikely to stick, say experts.

Commuters worried about coronavirus are tipped to shun public transport in the short-term, switching to cars as they return to work. Research by What Car? suggests nearly one in five buyers are looking to splash out this month.

In order to reopen, car dealerships are bringing in safety measures, from perspex screens, to solo test drives in order to stave off spreading the virus.

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) — the slowest month for sales since the year after World War II ended.

Sales of new cars have fallen by 97% as showrooms across the country shut their doors and manufacturing has ground to a halt.

“There is certainly pent-up demand,” Stuart Masson, editor of the Car Expert website told The Guardian. “Dealerships have been closed now for about 10 weeks, and hundreds of thousands of cars that would normally have gone out of the door haven’t gone.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: UK car production plummets to lowest level since World War II

But prospective buyers looking to snap up a bargain may be disappointed, Masson warned.

“Some people assume it’s going to be a buyers’ market, and dealers are desperate to sell, but initially that’s probably not going to be the case. Dealers are struggling with not having a huge amount of stock. If you don’t have that many cars to sell and you’ve got customers queueing out of the door, there’s no great incentive to drop prices,” he said.

Alongside this, car sales were slowing even before the crisis, said Mintel automotive analyst Chris Hadley. “Low levels of consumer confidence in the face of continuing difficulties for the wider economy are likely to see many prospective buyers delay purchasing their next car,” Hadley said.

“For those that do, price is likely to assume greater importance, placing further pressure on manufacturers and dealers, and consequently margins.”