New car sales returned to something approaching normal levels in April as dealers were allowed to reopen their showrooms to prospective customers. Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show new car registrations were down just under 13 percent on the average for the month.

In total, the SMMT data shows 141,583 vehicles were registered in the UK last month, despite dealers only opening showrooms on April 12. Thanks to the total lockdown during April 2020, that figure represented a massive 3,176.6 percent increase compared with the same month last year, but it was down by around 12 percent compared with April 2019.

Over the past 10 years – some of which have seen record new car registrations – the April average for new car registrations has been around the 160,000 mark. That’s 12.9 percent higher than April 2021’s figure, but given showrooms were closed for almost two weeks at the beginning of last month, it’s an encouraging sign.

New cars in car dealership showroom

In fact, the figures are so encouraging the SMMT says it expects registrations to be slightly higher than it predicted back in February. Whereas the industry body expected 1.83 million new cars to hit the road this year, it now thinks that figure will be more like 1.86 million.

Should that be the case, it would represent a 13.9 percent increase in registrations compared with 2020. However, it would still be some -20.2% down on the average of 2.33 million annual registrations recorded between 2010 and 2019.

SEAT dealership in Cardiff UK

According to the SMMT, growth in the market will be driven by increased confidence as coronavirus-related restrictions are eased, as well as an influx of new models. Electric cars are proving particularly popular, making up 6.5 percent of all new cars sold in April. That’s up from 0.9 percent in the same month of 2019.

“After one of the darkest years in automotive history, there is light at the end of the tunnel,” said the SMMT’s chief executive, Mike Hawes. “A full recovery for the sector is still some way off, but with showrooms open and consumers able to test drive the latest, cleanest models, the industry can begin to rebuild.

Market confidence is improving, and we now expect to finish the year in a slightly better position than anticipated in February, largely thanks to the more upbeat business and consumer confidence created by the successful vaccine rollout. That confidence should also translate into another record year for electric vehicles, which will likely account for more than one in seven new car registrations.”