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New car registrations fall by 44.4% in March

Date: 06 April 2020   |   Author: Illya Verpraet

As expected, the coronavirus crisis has decimated registrations of new cars in March, with the worst still to come in April.

The car market shrank by 44.4%, to 254,684, to make it the worst March since the late nineties when the market changed to the bi-annual plate change system. This is shown by figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

The UK was relatively late in declaring a lockdown and as a result, car sales have fared better than in other European countries, with Italy down 85%, France 72% and Spain down 69% in March.

Demand from both fleets and private buyers suffered, with large fleets down 47.4% and private sales down 40.4%.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, 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 bi-annual plate change system, it could have been worse had the significant advanced 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. 

"How long the market remains stalled is uncertain, but it will reopen and the products will be there. In the meantime, we will continue to work with government to do all we can to ensure the thousands of people employed in this sector are ready for work and Britain gets back on the move."

Despite the much lower overall sales, both pure electric cars and plug-in hybrids did well: 198% more electric cars were registered than last year, while plug-in hybrids were up 38%.