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Business & Economy

New UK car sales down 44.4 per cent in March

New data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reveals that car sales were down 44.4 per cent year-on-year in the month of March.

March is normally an important month for the automotive sector, with the issuance of new number plates driving both private, fleet and business sales.

With 254,684 new car sales, this was the weakest March performance since 1999 when bi-annual number plates were introduced into the UK.

There were 203,370 fewer new cars sold in March this year as compared to 2019, in the latest indicator of the negative impact coronavirus is having on consumer and business behaviour.

Private and fleet sales were down 40.4 and 47.4 per cent respectively while business sales were down 61.1 per cent.

As well as coronavirus, new car sales have been hampered by consumer and business caution over making large purchases generally. Environmental concerns and the prospect of tough emissions regulations also factor in.

The only positive to be taken from the SMMT findings today was that sales of electric and hybrid electrics are up significant year-on-year.

Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) for example were up 197.4 per cent in March with 11,694 new cars sold.

Howard Archer, chief economic advisor to the EY ITEM Club, commented: “March is the most important month of the year for new car sales, due to the number plate change, and saw the lowest number of vehicles sold for the month since 1999 when bi-annual number plates were introduced into the UK.

“Even before the coronavirus impact, year-on-year drops in new car sales in both February (2.9 per cent) and January (7.3 per cent) had indicated that the sector had not benefitted from reduced uncertainties and increased consumer and business confidence since December’s general election.”