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Business & Economy

New car sales hit 74-year low as COVID-19 checks demand

New car sales collapsed to record lows last month as coronavirus lockdown measures dramatically curbed customer demand.

Less than 4330 vehicles were registered across April in the market’s worst monthly performance since 1946.

The figure marked a 97.3 per cent fall on sales in April last year, with showroom closures – owing to the spread of COVID-19 – severely impacting dealers’ ability to trade.

Furthermore, the Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) – the organisation which monitors UK vehicle sales – says it expects the sector to suffer its lowest registration numbers since 1992 – 1.68 million – as the effects of coronavirus endure throughout 2020.

Bosses have now called on the Government to save the sector by ensuring it forms a major component of its plan to re-energise the UK’s economy post-coronavirus lockdown.

According to April’s sales figures, the Tesla Model 3 was the most popular with 658 sales, followed by the Jaguar I-Pace (367) and Vauxhall Corsa (264).

The all-electric Nissan Leaf, made at the company’s sprawling Sunderland plant, was ninth on the list, with 72 sales.

In year-to-date sales, the Ford Fiesta remains the UK’s most popular model, accounting for nearly 16,000 registrations, followed by the Volkswagen Golf (14,627) and Ford Focus (14,092).

The Nissan Qashqai, the flagship model of the Japanese company’s Wearside manufacturing plant, was fifth in the year-to-date standings with 11,857 sales.

Reacting to the latest figures – and reiterating the call for Government support – Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “With the UK’s showrooms closed for the whole of April, the market’s worst performance in living memory is hardly surprising.

“These figures, however, still make for exceptionally grim reading, not least for the hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on the sector.

“A strong new car market supports a healthy economy and as Britain starts to plan for recovery, we need car retail to be in the vanguard.

“Safely restarting this most critical sector and revitalising what will, inevitably, be subdued demand will be key to unlocking manufacturing and accelerating the UK’s economic regeneration.”

The SMMT’s sales update came just days after Nissan revealed it would begin a phased restart of vehicle production at its Sunderland plant in early June.

The company – which suspended work on March 17 – restarted operations in its Wearside castings and machining shops in late April.