Sustainable Energy

UK auto sales plummet to lowest level since 1946

Key Points
  • The sobering statistics reflect a challenging environment for the U.K. automotive industry.
  • The introduction of lockdown measures to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic mean car showrooms across the country are shuttered. 
Imported automobiles sit at the docks in Sheerness, U.K., on April 23, 2020.
Dan Kitwood | Getty Images News | Getty Images

New car registrations in the U.K. plummeted in April as measures to tackle the coronavirus pandemic severely disrupted the sector.

Figures released on Tuesday from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show that only 4,321 new cars were registered last month, compared to 161,064 in April 2019. The registration numbers for April 2020 are the lowest since February 1946.

The sobering statistics reflect a challenging environment for the U.K. automotive industry, with showrooms across the country shuttered due to stringent lockdown measures.

In April, diesel and gasoline vehicle registrations came to just 1,079 and 1,553, year-on-year drops of 97.6% and 98.5% respectively.

Battery electric vehicle, or BEV, registrations fell by 9.7% in April, which the SMMT put down to "some pre-ordered deliveries of the latest premium models" being able to be fulfilled. Indeed, in a sign of how disrupted and unrepresentative the current market is, the two best selling cars in the U.K. last month were battery electric: the Tesla Model 3 and Jaguar I-Pace.

The current situation is undoubtedly unique, as highlighted by the fact that the 31.8% market share for battery electric vehicles in April 2020 was actually higher than diesel's share of 25%.

If year-to-date figures are used, however, the market reverts to a more familiar picture, with the BEV share dropping to just 4% compared to 19% for diesel and 60.2% for gasoline.

Looking at the bigger picture, the SMMT is now forecasting 1.68 million registrations for 2020, a 27% drop compared to 2019 and the lowest level since 1992, when 1.59 million units were registered. The BEV market is seen doubling to 77,300 units in 2020.

"With the U.K.'s showrooms closed for the whole of April, the market's worst performance in living memory is hardly surprising," Mike Hawes, the SMMT's chief executive, said in a statement.

"These figures, however, still make for exceptionally grim reading, not least for the hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on the sector," he added.

"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 U.K.'s economic regeneration."