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Glimmers of hope as car sales rise to 20,000 in May

New-car sales are down 89 per cent over May 2019, but green shoots appear as buyers make use of click-and-collect sales

In any normal month, reporting an 89 per cent decline in new car sales would be a grim communique, but with April’s market down 97.3 per cent, the fact the market showed any signs of rallying despite dealerships being closed indicates consumer demand remains in place.

Some 20,247 new cars were registered in May 2020, down from 187,724 in the same month last year, but significantly up on the mere 4,321 new models changing hands in April. The majority (63.7 per cent, or 12,900 cars) of registrations were made by private buyers, who took advantage of innovative sales models that allowed retailers to deliver cars, despite all showrooms being closed.

With 852 examples finding homes, the Tesla Model 3 was the best-selling car last month, proving that the American firm's innovation lies not just in its forward-thinking electric cars, but also its sales model, which involves both online ordering and contactless handovers.

The Vauxhall Corsa was the second best-selling car, with 790 units registered, while the Ford Fiesta picked up bronze thanks to sales of 760.

Dealerships now open

The news of a small but significant market rally may give hope to dealerships, which were allowed to reopen on 1 June, that the demand for new cars hasn’t gone away despite the lockdown. Industry chiefs sounded a note of caution, however, warning that the figures were indicative of the “devastating” impact coronavirus has had on the new-car market.

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Of the total of 20,247 new cars finding homes last month, one in five (2,424) was a pure electric car, with EV sales getting close to matching those of diesel models (3,448) - a trend that will be welcomed in light of the ban on new petrol and diesel cars, due in 2035 or earlier. Petrol models still made up 55.1 per cent of all new registrations, though, with 11,150 such cars sold. Just 825 plug-in hybrids were registered in April 2020.

The registration data was compiled by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, whose chief executive, Mike Hawes, said: “After a second month of shutdown and the inevitable yet devastating impact on the market, this week’s re-opening of dealerships is a pivotal moment for the entire industry and the thousands of people whose jobs depend on it. 

Hawes said that with dealers reopening, “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.

He added: “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.”

Did you buy a new car in May? Let us know how it went in the comments section...

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