Global car sales to drop 15% in 2020 as electric vehicles see uptake, IEA says

India saw no sales of cars in April as strict lockdown measures curtailed movement as well as spending

Worker secure chassis fittings on the Volkswagen AG (VW) ID.3 electric automobile wedding line at the automaker's factory in Zwickau, Germany, on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 20120. The world’s largest automaker plans to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 and will invest 33 billion euros through 2024 to build the industry’s biggest fleet of electric cars. Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg
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Global car sales are set for a 15 per cent drop in 2020 because of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, double the decline during the 2008-09 global financial crisis, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Car sales are likely to slump by 13 million compared with 2019, with the largest drops to be registered in Europe, the US and China – regions hardest hit by the pandemic.

While conventional car sales were battered, sales of electric vehicles may see an upswing this year, according to the Paris-headquartered agency.

Global electric car sales are likely to exceed 2019's total to reach more than 2.3 million, taking up a record share of the car market of more than 3 per cent.

"This brings up the total number of electric cars on the road worldwide to a new record of about 10 million, around 1 per cent of the global car stock," the IEA said.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit automakers squeezed by the US-China trade war, as countries enforced lockdown measures to contain the outbreak. Car sales slumped as people worked from home and avoided public spaces for nearly four months in most countries.

Global car sales between January and April dropped by a third from the same period in 2019, according to the IEA, with around nine million fewer cars sold.

"On a monthly basis, the decline in sales was even more pronounced, mirroring the timing and stringency of the lockdowns across many countries. China, the world’s largest car market, registered its sharpest year-on-year decline in February," the agency said.

Car sales in China traditionally dip in February because of the Lunar New Year holiday, but this year sales fell by 80 per cent compared with February 2019.

Car sales in the US halved year-on-year in April, while they dropped 60 per cent in Germany. France reported a decline of 90 per cent, while the UK and Italy said sales slumped by 90 per cent.

"For India, virtually no car sales were reported," the IEA said.

India, the world's second-most populous country enforced one of the strictest lockdown measures in the world, shutting down ground transportation as well as air travel, including domestic flights.

A rebound in car sales is expected in the second half of 2020, but the pace of revival will depend on "which confinement measures are eased, potential second waves of the pandemic, the pace of economic recovery and the willingness and ability of consumers and businesses to purchase new cars", the IEA said.

Electric cars, meanwhile, are likely to have a much better outlook than the rest of the car industry on the basis of their competitive costs. However, the IEA cautioned the recent collapse in oil prices may have slightly eroded that competitiveness.