-  Graphic: SMMT

Graphic: SMMT

New car sales in the United Kingdom fell 29.4% last year, indicating their biggest annual drop since 1943 and the toughest year for the market since 1992, led by COVID-19 lockdown measures.

Demand for new cars was 1.63 million in 2020, according to the latest data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). A 10.9% decline in December wrapped up a turbulent year.

Through coronavirus restrictions, an acceleration of the end of sale date for gas and diesel cars to 2030 and Brexit uncertainty, the industry suffered a total turnover loss of some £20.4 billion.

The year also saw 31.1% fewer vehicles joining large company car fleets.

Demand fell across almost all segments bar. Britain’s most popular class of car the supermini saw a 25.9% decline in registrations, SMMT found. Meanwhile, although falling by a combined 32.9%, petrol and mild hybrid (MHEV) petrol cars made up 62.7% of registrations, while diesel and MHEV diesels, down 47.6%, comprised almost a fifth (19.8%) of the market.

On a positive note, demand for battery electric vehicles (BEVs) grew by 185.9% to 108,205 units, while registrations of plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) rose 91.2% to 66,877. 

The performance leaves new car sales suffering the biggest drop since the U.K. was fighting in World War Two and the industry was repurposed for the war effort, Reuters reported. The car sector again faces challenges of new national lockdowns that were announced in England and Scotland this week.

Though, with the availability of COVID-19 vaccines in 2021 there is the potential to drive a recovery that would also support the UK’s environmental goals.

Additionally, with the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement now in force, the industry has avoided a catastrophic “no deal” scenario and can plan for a future with more certainty over trading conditions, SMMT said.

“2020 will be seen as a ‘lost year’ for Automotive, with the sector under pandemic-enforced shutdown for much of the year and uncertainty over future trading conditions taking their toll,” said Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive. “However, with the rollout of vaccines and clarity over our new relationship with the EU, we must make 2021 a year of recovery. With manufacturers bringing record numbers of electrified vehicles to market over the coming months, we will work with government to encourage drivers to make the switch, while promoting investment in our globally-renowned manufacturing base – recharging the market, industry and economy.”

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