New car sales were down 89 percent in May as Covid-19 kept showroom doors closed, although online ordering meant the market was not totally wiped out. With figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) showing just over 20,000 new cars were registered last month, the UK car industry suffered its worst May performance since 1952.

Although 20,247 new car registrations may sound like a lot, it pales into insignificance alongside the 183,724 cars registered in the fifth month of 2019. It’s the third consecutive month in which the market has seen sales decline dramatically as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, although there is hope that the reopening of showrooms in June will help to slow the slide.

With so-called ‘click-and-collect’ services permitted by authorities from the middle of May, there are already signs of a small recovery. The 89-percent drop in registrations seen last month was huge, but still a marginal improvement on the 97.3-percent reduction seen in April.

1. Ford Fiesta

As that April performance followed on from a March that saw registrations almost halve, it’s clear that the pandemic has hit the car industry hard. Last year, well over a million new cars had been registered by the end of May. At the same point in 2020, that figure has fallen by more than half, to just over 508,000.

And with the dramatic drop in new car sales has come a noticeable change in the country’s most popular new cars. Where the Ford Fiesta is normally the undisputed champion, the Tesla Model 3 has nudged it off top spot for two consecutive months during lockdown. However, with just 852 Model 3s sold in May and 658 sold in April, the electric saloon is still a long way from troubling the Fiesta in the 2020 standings as a whole. Despite the crisis, almost 17,000 Fiestas have been sold so far this year.

Car salesman in car dealership showroom

“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,” said the SMMT’s chief executive, Mike Hawes. “Customers keen to trade up into the latest, cutting-edge new cars are now able to return to showrooms and 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.

“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.”