New car sales sink to lowest level since 1959

UK car dealership

Sales of new cars plunged to levels not seen since 1959 in February as coronavirus lockdowns continued to ravage Britain’s automotive industry.

Just 51,312 new cars were registered last month according to data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) – a 35.5pc decline that equated to 28,282 fewer cars than in February last year.

February is traditionally a quiet month for the car industry as it comes ahead of the new registration plate in March.

Motorists keen to have the latest car on their drives mean March is normally the busiest time for dealers, accounting for a fifth of all new vehicle sales each year.

However, with January lockdowns forcing showrooms to shut and dealers going online to make sales, demand has collapsed.

According to the SMMT, closures and weaker consumer confidence related to the pandemic have cost the industry £23bn in lost sales over the past year.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, called February’s performance “deeply disappointing but expected”.

He added: “More concerning is that closures have stifled dealers’ preparations for March with the expectation that this will now be a third successive dismal ‘new plate month’.

“Although we have a pathway out of restrictions with rapid vaccine rollout, and proven experience in operating click and collect, it is essential that showrooms reopen as soon as possible so the industry can start to build back.”

Demand for environmentally-friendly cars continued to rise in February, with battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) taking a combined 13pc market share, up from 5.7pc a year ago.

BEV uptake increased by 40.2pc to 3,516, and PHEVs by 52.1pc to 3,131.

Demand for diesel continued its decline since the 2015 emissions scandal. Just 13.2pc of cars sold last month had diesel engines, a drop of 61pc on a year ago. Five years ago they commanded half of the market.

Petrol cars had 52.1pc market share in February, down from 60.6pc in the same month last year.