Only 20,000 new cars sold in May as pandemic has ‘devastating impact’

Demand for new cars fell by 89% last month as the coronavirus lockdown hit sales.

Only 20,000 new cars were registered in May compared with 184,000 during the same month in 2019, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said.

It was the automotive industry’s worst May performance since 1952.

Just over half a million new cars have been sold in the first five months of 2020, compared with more than one million at the same point last year.

Car showrooms across the UK were closed for the whole of May, but limited deliveries of new vehicles ordered online could take place.

They have been able to reopen in England since Monday but remain closed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “After a second month of shutdown and the inevitable yet devastating impact on the market, this week’s reopening of dealerships is a pivotal moment for the entire industry and the thousands of people whose jobs depend on it.

“Customers keen to trade up into the latest, cutting-edge new cars are now able to return to showrooms and early reports suggest there is good business given the circumstances, although it is far too early to tell how demand will pan out over the coming weeks and months.

“Restarting this market is a crucial first step in driving the recovery of Britain’s critical car manufacturers and supply chain, and to supporting the wider economy.

“Ensuring people have the confidence to invest in the latest vehicles will not only help them get on the move safely, but these new models will also help address some of the environmental challenges the UK faces in the long term.”

Ian Plummer, commercial director at online car marketplace Auto Trader, said there is “a lot of pent-up demand” from car buyers, creating a “huge opportunity for the industry to help kickstart the country’s wider economy”.

He added that retailers have worked hard to show consumers that their sites adhere to new hygiene guidelines “to instil confidence that if they turn up to a forecourt, it’s safe to do so”.

The Guardian reported on Wednesday that the SMMT has been in talks with the Government over a possible £1.5 billion scrappage scheme that would take £2,500 off the price of a new car to stimulate the market.

Andrea Lee, clean air campaigns manager for environmental lawyers ClientEarth, said taxpayers’ money should be used to help people on low incomes and small businesses switch to cleaner forms of transport.

“Subsidies that keep fossil-fuelled vehicles on the roads have no place in creating a healthier and fairer future for the UK,” she added.

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