The UK used car market slipped by 15 percent in 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic dented demand for vehicles. That’s according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), a leading industry body that says showrooms should be allowed to open as soon as current restrictions are eased.

After a relatively strong start to 2020, the SMMT’s figures reveal an unsurprising slump in demand as the coronavirus pandemic swept across Europe. That contributed to the 14.9-percent drop in used car transactions, which took the sector to its worst performance in almost a decade.

With 6.75 million used car transactions recorded in 2020, the year saw almost 1.2 million fewer vehicles change hands than in 2019. It’s the lowest number since 2012, and the SMMT says it’s a surefire sign dealers must re-open “as soon as possible” to help stimulate the economy and protect jobs.

Used cars

However, the figures also show a marked increase in sales of electric and hybrid vehicles, with so-called ‘alternatively fuelled’ vehicle sales up 5.2 percent. That may only bring the total number of transactions to 144,225 – or 2.1 percent of the total – but it’s a welcome area of growth in the market.

In isolation, the electric vehicle (EV) market grew the most, rising almost 30 percent to more than 19,000 units, but that’s still a mere 0.3 percent of all used car sales. The market for plug-in hybrid cars, meanwhile, fell very slightly, down five percent, but that slump was tiny compared with the 15.5-percent drop in diesel car sales and the 15.2-percent reduction in petrol car sales.

Young couple with salesman looking at used car

“These figures are yet more evidence of the significant damage coronavirus has caused the automotive sector,” said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes. “Market growth at the start of the year was welcome but quickly stifled by the first lockdown as showrooms closed across the country, a picture that was repeated with the subsequent lockdowns in November and, indeed, into 2021.

“The priority now must be to allow car showrooms to re-open as soon as restrictions are eased. This will not only help the used market recover, supporting jobs and livelihoods and providing individuals with the personal mobility they need at a time when guidance is against using public or shared transport, but it will also enable the latest and cleanest vehicles to filter through to second owners and keep society moving.”

The SMMT’s list of the most popular models broadly reflected trends in the new car market, with the Ford Fiesta taking top spot. The popular supermini was pursued by its arch rival, the Vauxhall Corsa, while the larger Ford Focus rounded out the top three.