Sales are getting close to normal levels despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

New car sales fell very slightly last month, with a leading industry body blaming the decline on the Welsh ‘firebreak’ lockdown. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the closure of Welsh dealerships at the end of October accounted for more than half the total drop in registrations.

The organisation’s figures show just under 141,000 cars were registered in the UK during October, down 1.6 percent on the 143,251 vehicles registered during the same month in 2019. The result sounds positive – especially considering registrations were almost completely wiped out six months earlier – but the SMMT says last month was the sector’s worst October since 2011.

Wales’ ‘firebreak’ lockdown began on October 23, with dealer’s forced to close their doors as part of the “short, sharp” measure to slow the spread of Covid-19. The SMMT data shows that caused a 25.5-percent reduction in Welsh registrations, which accounts for more than half the 1.6-percent decline in demand.

The result means the UK car market is still far behind 2019 levels, with 1,384,601 new cars registered between January 1 and October 31. At the same point last year, more than two million new cars had hit the roads of the UK.

However, there’s good news on the electric vehicle (EV) front, with a strong October showing offering EVs an increased market share. October 2019 saw electric cars make up 2.2 percent of the market, but that grew to 6.6 percent in October 2020. The first 10 months of 2020 saw almost 76,000 new EVs arrive on the roads of the UK, up from just over 28,000 during the same 10 months of 2019.

New cars at dealer showroom

Mike Hawes, the SMMT’s chief executive, said the November lockdown in England would have a huge impact on the car industry, and he called on the government to keep dealers open. He also urged the government to arrange a free-trade agreement with the EU to keep the industry buoyant.

“When showrooms shut, demand drops, so there is a real danger that with England today entering a second lockdown, both dealers and manufacturers could face temporary closure,” he said. “What is not in doubt, however, is that the entire industry now faces an even tougher end to the year as businesses desperately try to manage resources, stock, production and cashflow in the penultimate month before the inevitable upheaval of Brexit.

“Keeping showrooms open – some of the most Covid-secure retail environments around – would help cushion the blow but, more than ever, we need a tariff-free deal with the EU to provide some much-needed respite for an industry that is resilient but massively challenged.”

Jaguar Land Rover brand logos on dealership buildings