UK new car sales slid 27.4% during November lockdown in £1.3bn hit to market

The sector has contracted 30.7% this year due to the effects of the pandemic

An aerial photograph shows new cars in a compound in Sheerness in Kent, south east England on November 24, 2020.  / AFP / BEN STANSALL
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New car registrations in the UK slumped by 27.4 per cent in November year-on-year, according to industry data, when the country spent most of the month in a partial national lockdown that closed showrooms.

Sales stalled at 113,781 cars, with the car market suffering a £1.3 billion revenue hit as 42,840 fewer vehicles joined the British roads, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said on Friday, as the sector had to rely on 'click and collect' and delivery options to shift inventory.

"With a vaccine now approved, the business and consumer confidence on which this sector depends can only improve, giving the industry more optimism for the turn of the year," said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes.

Business activity in Britain fell in November during the second lockdown, according to IHS Markit, with the composite Purchasing Managers Index for the UK dipping slightly to 49.0 from 52.1, the lowest level since June.

SMMT said the sector welcomed the reopening of Covid-secure showrooms following the end of the lockdown on December 2, as the market has contracted 30.7 per cent so far this year, the equivalent of 663,761 units.

While the low sales figures for November take trade back to levels last seen during the 2008 recession when only 100,333 units were sold, the decline was less severe than during the first lockdown, when registrations fell by a record 97.3 per cent in April alone.

This less severe hit to the market during the second lockdown was because retailers and manufacturers were able to prepare better to meet orders via delivery or click and collect, SMMT said.

However, despite these innovations, private demand still fell 32.2 per cent and registrations by large fleets saw a decline of 22.1 per cent.

“Compared with the spring lockdown, manufacturers, dealers and consumers were all better prepared to adjust to constrained trading conditions. But with £1.3bn worth of new car revenue lost in November alone, the importance of showroom trading to the UK economy is evident and we must ensure they remain open in any future Covid restrictions,” said Mr Hawes.

British car manufacturing slumped by 18.2 per cent on the year in October as Covid-19 hit demand, the SMMT said last month, with 24,490 fewer cars made in October than in the same month last year.

The automotive sector has lost 663,761 car sales to date in 2020, which means that around 31,000 cars would need to be registered every working day in December if the market was to achieve the level expected at the start of the year.

New cars are seen in a compound in Sheerness in Kent, south east England on November 24, 2020.  / AFP / BEN STANSALL

The best-selling new car model in November was the Vauxhall Corsa, with 3,718 units shifted this year, followed by the Volkswagen Golf with 3,625 cars sold and the Mercedes-Benz A-Class with 3,243 units. The top-selling model this year has been the Ford Fiesta, with 45,807 cars sold.

On a positive note, the market share for battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) grew significantly in November, up 122.4 per cent and 76.9 per cent, respectively.

The UK will ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030, a decade earlier than previously planned, according to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s 10-point plan for a “green industrial revolution” unveiled last month.

Under the new proposals, the government will invest £1.3bn in creating more electric vehicle charging points in homes and streets across England, and make £582 million available in grants for people to buy zero or ultra-low-emission vehicles.

BEVs recorded their third highest ever monthly share of registrations at 9.1 per cent in November, said SMMT, while the PHEV share increased to 6.8 per cent – a combined total of more than 18,000 new zero-emission capable cars joining Britain’s roads.