The new car market suffered its “worst performance in living memory” with a 97% fall in April due to the coronavirus pandemic, the motor industry has said.
Figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show that only 4,321 new cars were registered last month, some 156,743 fewer than in April 2019.
The coronavirus lockdown has led to car showrooms being closed and many potential customers being housebound.
SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “With the UK’s showrooms closed for the whole of April, the market’s worst performance in living memory is hardly surprising.
“These figures, however, still make for exceptionally grim reading, not least for the hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on the sector.
“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.”
The SMMT is forecasting that around 1.68 million new cars will be registered during the whole of 2020, which would represent a 27% decline on last year.
Jim Holder, editorial director of What Car? magazine, told the PA news agency the figures for April were “disastrous but not unexpected”, as buying a new car was “as far from people’s minds as you can possibly get”.
“It’s consistent with the figures coming through from the rest of Europe,” he said.
“Everything was frozen for a month.”
Mr Holder said that in the short term, there is a “substantial amount of pent-up demand” for new cars.
He said retailers need to introduce social distancing standards which mean customers have confidence they can “buy a car without risking their lives”.
Mr Holder acknowledged that any spike in sales is “not going to fill the gap” in terms of revenue lost in recent weeks, but urged the automotive industry to “make the most of every opportunity”.
Car-makers and retailers face “very difficult times ahead” as consumers reduce their expenditure on motoring, he predicted.
“I think they can all pretty much handle – with some careful measures – one bump.
“I would think if it becomes more sustained or returns, then you’re going to have to look at it again.”