Orders for new ‘21’ number plate cars in March were down by as much as 30%, according to more than half of dealers surveyed by Cox Automotive.
March is usually the automotive industry’s best performing car sales month of the year, but lockdown has caused sales to fall below expectations.
Philip Nothard, insight and strategy director at Cox Automotive, said: “The data on car sales during the third lockdown makes for difficult reading, but it also provides some optimism. Seventy percent of dealers report the third lockdown has caused a 10-30% reduction in new car orders, and 17% of dealers have been hit as badly as up to 50%.
“This highlights why it’s imperative for the industry, that car showrooms reopen on April 12. Thankfully, over half of the dealers we asked believe that economic conditions will improve once the third lockdown ends.”
New car sales in February 2021 fell by 35.5% compared to the previous year, a decrease of 28,282 vehicles.
Fleet and business new car registrations were down by more than a third in February. There were 29,948 new cars registered to fleet and business in February, 34% fewer vehicles than in February 2020 (45,545 units).
Year-to-date, the fleet and business sector is 38% down, with 82,242 cars registered in the first two months of 2021, compared to 133,139 units during the same period last year.
The first lockdown of late March to June 2020 accounted for 77% of the -680,076 deficit in new car registrations last year, and a -1.1m deficit in used car sales.
The second lockdown of November to December 2020 saw car sales decrease more gently compared to the previous year and was the motor trade’s best performance in any lockdown period.
New car sales in November 2020 decreased 27.35% on the previous year and December saw a decrease of 10.95%.
January 2021 also saw new and used vehicle days in stock increase, coinciding with the lower sales figures during the third lockdown. Franchised dealers reported 48.9 average days in stock, compared to 42.4 the previous year. Independent dealers reported 48.8 days, compared to 42.5 in the previous year, and car supermarkets reported 48.1 days compared to 40.6 days in January 2020.
Nothard added: “The opening of car showrooms on April 12 is a real opportunity for dealers to boost sales volumes after a hugely challenging 12 months. April and May could see a surge in new car sales, coinciding with the recent release of the new ‘21’ number plate.
“Less popular click-and-collect schemes, born out of necessity, will be supplemented hugely by the more standard showroom and test-drive experience that customers are used to. Furthermore, consumer spending in 2021 could well shift to the car market, since other large-scale purchases such as holidays abroad, continue to be surrounded by risk and uncertainty.”