Coronavirus: New car registrations plunge by 44 per cent

Published 06 April 2020

The number of new cars registered in the UK has fallen by more than 44 per cent.

March is traditionally seen as an important month for new car sales as it's one of two months in the year when a new number plate is introduced. However, fewer than 255,000 new cars were registered in March 2020 - down from more than 458,000 during the same period last year.

>> Coronavirus: What it means for car buyers and owners

Despite this, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) - the organisation which publishes these figures - is adamant that it's not an indication of what's to come.

"We should not draw long term conclusions from these figures other than this being a stark realisation of what happens when economies grind to a halt," said the SMMT's chief executive, Mike Hawes.

"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."

With car factories closing, COVID-19 is expected to hit the number of new cars being sold for a number of months - something which could lead to an increase in the prices of second-hand vehicles.

“Such a dramatic decline in registrations is proof that COVID-19 will ricochet through the industry for weeks and months ahead," said Karen Hilton, chief commercial officer of car buying website heycar.

“We know more people are looking online than ever right now, browsing and deciding what their next car is going to be when better times return. The heycar site has seen record traffic levels since the country went into lockdown.

“It will be the used car market that bounces back quicker with more buyers looking for reliable used or nearly new models, and cars being returned from PCP agreements and part-exchanges entering back into the market.”

While sales of petrol and diesel vehicles were hit hard in March (with drops of 49.9 and 61.9 per cent respectively), electric vehicles actually saw an increase in registrations. A total of 11,694 electric cars were registered in March 2020 - up by nearly 200 per cent compared to a year before.

That means battery-electric cars overtook plug-in hybrids in popularity, with PHEVs seeing a more modest 38 per cent increase in sales. In total, 6,818 were registered last month.

So far in 2020, 483,557 new cars have been registered in the UK - representing a drop of nearly a third (31 per cent) compared to the first three months of 2019, when more than 700,000 were registered.


stephen heath    on 6 April 2020

Maybe people can't afford such high prices of new cars

Chris Ottewell    on 6 April 2020

Maybe Stephen, but in real terms they are far cheaper than they have ever been and if predictions are correct, cheaper than they will be for the foreseeable future

Harrovian    on 6 April 2020

Today's new cars are too complex and too expensive, who really needs all the gadgets and technology, can't we switch on our own lights and wipers, operate a simple and reliable handbrake and use a dipstick to check the oil level. The more there is, then the more there is to go wrong.

Libero37    on 7 April 2020

Totally agree with Harrovian. I have been put off buying a new car for those very reasons. I have been looking for a replacement to my 2002 Peugeot diesel, which has done 170000 miles and apart from normal wear items has given no trouble at all. No catalytic converter or DPF to worry about and consistently returnimg 48/50 mpg.. I've had the car from new,so I think it will last another 18 years!
Ken Beadles.

hissingsid    on 7 April 2020

I entirely agree. Today's cars are overloaded with "kit" and "tech" which many of us do not want or understand. Some gadgets are downright dangerous, including electronic parking brakes whose accident records are well documented, and needlessly complicated touchscreen menus which distract the driver as much as using a mobile phone.

I wish that the major manufacturers would go back to producing the cars most people actually want, not the ones they think we ought to have, but complexity keeps prices and repair costs high. The success of Dacia proves that there is a ready market for basic low tech cars at sensible prices.

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