Full recovery 'still some way off' as new car sales rev up post-lockdown

Sales of new cars enjoyed an “artificial” 30-fold increase last month, compared to a year earlier, but a full recovery “is still some way off”, industry leaders have cautioned.

There were 141,583 new cars registered across the UK in April, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said.

That dwarfed the total of 4,321 recorded in the same month in 2020, when the UK was in a full coronavirus lockdown. But it is 12.9 per cent lower than the April average between 2010 and 2019.

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The SMMT said the full impact of dealerships being allowed to reopen during April after more than three months of closure was not fully reflected in the figures, as there is often a delay of several weeks between a customer visiting a showroom, deciding on a model and taking delivery of their new vehicle.

There were 141,583 new cars registered across the UK in April, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said. That dwarfed the total of 4,321 recorded in the same month in 2020, when the UK was in a full coronavirus lockdown. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

It recently raised its forecast of the number of new cars which will be registered this year to 1.86 million, up from the prediction of 1.83 million it issued in February.

The industry body said this is because “the economic backdrop has improved noticeably over the recent weeks on the back of successful vaccine rollout”.

An annual total of 1.86 million would represent a 14.1 per cent increase on last year, but a 20.2 per cent decrease on average annual registrations between 2010 and 2019.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “After one of the darkest years in automotive history, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

“A full recovery for the sector is still some way off, but with showrooms open and consumers able to test drive the latest, cleanest models, the industry can begin to rebuild.

“Market confidence is improving, and we now expect to finish the year in a slightly better position than anticipated in February, largely thanks to the more upbeat business and consumer confidence created by the successful vaccine rollout.”

Plug-in cars, such as pure electric and plug-in hybrid models, accounted for 13.2 per cent of the new car market last month.

John Wilmot, chief executive of car leasing comparison website LeaseLoco, said: “Although click-and-collect provided a lifeline for dealerships during the height of the pandemic, they will have been relieved to reopen their doors again to the public in April.

“This boost should start to be reflected in new car sales figures over the coming months, as the country as a whole reopens and consumers start to feel more confident about spending again.

“The UK car industry has some critical months ahead after battling its way through an almighty fight over the past 12 months, with Covid in one corner of the ring and Brexit in the other.”

Alex Buttle, director of used car marketplace Motorway.co.uk, noted: “While the percentage surge in new car registrations is insanely high, the champagne will have to be put on ice for the time being, as the new car industry has a lot of ground to make up on pre-pandemic levels in terms of raw sales figures.”

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