Just over 90,200 cars were registered UK-wide in January – down 39.5 per cent on the same month in 2020, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
It marks the industry’s worst start to a year since 1970 as showrooms across the country remained shut due to Covid lockdown measures. In Scotland there was a 30 per cent decline, year-on-year.
SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “Following a £20.4 billion loss of revenue last year, the auto industry faces a difficult start to 2021.
“The necessary lockdown will challenge society, the economy and our industry’s ability to move quickly towards our ambitious environmental goals.
“Lifting the shutters will secure jobs, stimulate the essential demand that supports our manufacturing, and will enable us to forge ahead on the road to zero.
“Every day that showrooms can safely open will matter, especially with the critical month of March looming.”
Demand remained depressed for both private buyers (down 38.5 per cent) and large fleets (down 39.7 per cent).
Declines were also recorded in both petrol and diesel cars registrations, which fell by 62.1 per cent and 50.6 per cent respectively.
On a positive note, pure battery electric vehicle (BEV) uptake grew by 2,206 units (54.4 per cent) to take a 6.9 per cent slice of the market, as the number of available models almost doubled from 22 in January 2019 to 40 this year.
Combined, BEVs and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) accounted for 13.7 per cent of registrations. The best-selling car last month overall was the new Vauxhall Corsa.
James Fairclough, chief executive of AA Cars, said: “Car dealerships began the new year closed due to the lockdown and unfortunately without any idea of when they may re-open, slowing the number of new car sales to a trickle.
“Nevertheless this lockdown is likely to be different to the shutdown last spring. Many dealers have adapted their proposition, and increasing numbers are now offering home delivery and click and collect options.
“Digitalising elements of the sales process has no doubt been challenging for many, but the industry’s effort and agility will pay off in the long-run – as we expect some drivers will prefer to buy in this way in the future.”
Karen Hilton, chief commercial officer at heycar, described the latest figures as “bleak” but pointed to a surge in used car demand.
She said: “Unsurprisingly the new car market continues to struggle amid the ongoing disruption brought about by the pandemic.
“The bleak performance comes amid a bruising 2020 for the sector that saw a 30 per cent drop in registrations. Continuing production delays mean that some customers are still facing frustrating waits of up to four months for certain new models.
“Yet, despite the challenging conditions, there are welcome signs that general demand for drivers looking to change their car remains strong. At heycar we saw a surge in the volume of leads going to our network of dealers in January – up 22.8 per cent month on month.”