New car registrations plunged 29 percent in 2020 to 1.63 million units, a level not seen since the 1992 recession.
In terms of year-on-year decline, the pandemic-induced plunge is a degree of severity last seen back in 1943, where almost no cars were sold due to WW2.
Trade body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders says the first lockdown accounts for the bulk of lost sales. At least half a million fewer cars were sold in March, April and May 2020.
“The market simply never recovered,” said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes.
Such a decline in new car sales will have had a significant impact on the UK economy, with the SMMT estimating the exchequer lost £1.9 billion in receipts from new cars.
The cost to the automotive industry was around £20 billion.
SMMT boffins previously predicted 2021 new car sales would return to around two million units. They are now revising these estimates downwards, and plan to release a new figure later in January.
The usual ‘run rate’ for new car registrations in the UK is around 2.3 million units, showing the scale of the decline caused by the Covid pandemic.
Electric up, diesel down
The decline of diesel continued unabated. The last time so few diesel cars were sold was back in 2000.
Only 20 percent of new cars sold in 2020 were diesel-powered.
In contrast, sales of pure electric cars accelerated rapidly. They took a 5.8 percent market share (from less than 2 percent a year ago), with sales reaching almost 110,000 units.
Add in plug-in hybrid vehicles, and one in 10 cars sold in 2020 was a plug-in electric vehicle capable of travelling some distance in zero-emissions mode.
This was a new record for the UK.
However, the SMMT warned there is still a long way to go before one in 10 sales grows to the ’10 in 10′ sales required by the government’s 2030 deadline.
Best-selling cars 2020
The Ford Fiesta, once again, was the best-selling car in Britain in 2020 – but the rejuvenated Vauxhall Corsa ran it surprisingly close.
The AUTOBEST Best Buy Car of Europe 2020 was less than 2,500 units behind the Fiesta, and easily beat the Volkswagen Golf, leaving the VW in third place.
The ageing Nissan Qashqai slipped to sixth, while the brand new Ford Puma made an immediate impact by taking ninth in the top 10 list.
The Mercedes-Benz A-Class and BMW 1 Series saw two premium-brand hatchbacks make the top 10, with the A-Class sitting well clear of the Qashqai in fifth place.
2020’s top 10 new cars
1: Ford Fiesta
2: Vauxhall Corsa
3: Volkswagen Golf
4: Ford Focus
5: Mercedes-Benz A-Class
6: Nissan Qashqai
7: Mini Hatch
8: Volkswagen Polo
9: Ford Puma
10: BMW 1 Series