There were 283,964 new cars registered in the UK last month despite showrooms remaining shut due to coronavirus restrictions, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said. It marked a year-on-year rise of 11.5 per cent.
However, the total was still 36.9 per cent down on the average March total between 2010 and 2019.
Industry turnover between January and March was down £1.8 billion compared with the same period in 2020.
March is traditionally a strong month for car sales as new number plates are released. In Scotland, overall registrations were up 23.5 per cent year-on-year last month.
The SMMT said 8,300 registrations a day are needed for the industry to return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year.
The organisation’s chief executive, Mike Hawes, said: “The past year has been the toughest in modern history and the automotive sector has, like many others, been hit hard.
“However, with showrooms opening in less than a week [in England], there is optimism that consumer confidence – and hence the market – will return.
“We know we will see record-breaking growth [in April] given April 2020 was a washout, but a strong and sustainable market is possible if customers are attracted to the choice and competitive offer the industry is able to provide within the safest of showroom environments.
“New plug-in models are already helping drive a recovery but to convince more retail consumers to make the switch they must be assured these new technologies will be convenient for their driving needs, and that means, above all, that the charging infrastructure is there where they need it, and when they need it.”
Scottish car showrooms were able to reopen at the start of this week as coronavirus restrictions were eased.
James Fairclough, chief executive of AA Cars, said: “Whether it was the light at the end of the lockdown tunnel or the arrival of the new licence plates, March’s uptick in sales provided a much-needed boost to dealers.
“There’s now a renewed sense of optimism in the industry as forecourts begin to open in Scotland, and dealerships in England prepare to follow suit next week.
“These figures are a sign that there is plenty of pent-up demand for new cars, and dealers are understandably hoping for a strong recovery in the coming months.”
“While the pandemic has taken a toll on many people’s finances, others are emerging with a nest egg after months of lockdown living. If those with additional savings at their disposal choose to spend on big-ticket purchases once restrictions end, this could ensure the car industry, along with the wider economy, bounces back quicker than originally anticipated.”
Alex Buttle, director of used car marketplace Motorway.co.uk, added: “March 2020 saw the UK plunged into lockdown for the first time when car showrooms were forced to shut their doors and sales fell accordingly. Many dealers adjusted to the new normal by offering a fully online experience from then onwards.”