February car sales: Weakest since 1959 as lockdown #3 bites

Published:  04 March, 2021

The impact of lockdown, with showrooms remaining shut since 5 January meant new car sales saw their weakest February since 1959 last month, according to the latest figures from the SMMT. The market was down 35.5% with 28,282 fewer vehicles sold compared with 2020. In total, 51,312 new cars were registered during the month, which is traditionally one of the weakest during the year for new car sales.

Despite this, plug-in vehicles saw some growth, with BEVs and PHEVs taking a combined 13.0% market share for the month, up from just 5.7% in February 2020.

The SMMT has already revised its market outlook from January, which projected 1.89 million sales for the year. The organisation is now predicting 1.83 million cars sold during the year, with most of the losses expected in March.

Commenting on the figures, SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes: said: “February is traditionally a small month for car registrations and with showrooms closed for the duration, the decline is deeply disappointing but expected. More concerning, however, is that these 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 better, and recover the £23 billion loss from the past year.”

NFDA Director Sue Robinson commented: “The decline of 35.5% in February was expected as the national lockdown continued, but looking ahead, with showrooms due to reopen soon and significant pent-up demand, dealers are optimistic.”

Looking ahead, she remained upbeat: “The plate change month will incentivise consumers and there is significant pent up demand, as evidenced by industry data suggesting that many car buyers are waiting for dealerships to reopen to complete their purchases.

“Positively, sales of Battery and Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles continued to rise, although with showrooms closed, feedback from retailers suggests that it can be more challenging to sell cars that consumers may not be fully familiar with, such as electrified vehicles that have only just entered the market. Customers want to see these cars, try them and ask questions in person, indicating that also our transition to a zero-emission market will benefit from the reopening of dealerships.

“Online sales, with click & collect and deliveries, have been providing a lifeline for retailers who demonstrated once again their resilience selling nearly two thirds of the new cars sold this time last year before the outbreak of the pandemic when dealerships were open and operating normally; however, dealers are now looking forward to reopening soon and safely welcoming customers back into showrooms.”

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