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Car registrations down 36% in February to lowest level in 62 YEARS

Registrations of new cars have dropped to the lowest level in February for 62 years, industry figures have confirmed this morning.

A total of just 51,312 new models were purchased last month, which is the fewest since 1959 – the year the original Mini went on sale.

The month marked a 36 per cent year-on-year decline in vehicle registrations, with February 2020 being the final month of last year that impacted by coronavirus restrictions.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said the decline is ‘deeply disappointing but expected’.

Worst February for car sales in 62 years: Just over 51,000 new models were registered last month, which is the lowest level since 1959 – when the original Mini was first launched (inset)

The figures show that 28,282 new cars were registered last month compared to February a year ago.

As staggering as the numbers look, the sales results are not surprising.

Car showrooms have been closed nationwide since 5 January as part of the latest lockdown measures, which has been a significant burden on motor traders.

While dealerships are still able to sell vehicles online and complete transactions with ‘click-and-collect’ handovers, both private and fleet sector demand fell, by 37 per cent and 34 per cent respectively. 

The figures show that 28,282 new cars were registered last month compared to February a year ago

The figures show that 28,282 new cars were registered last month compared to February a year ago

Alec Issigonis, the designer of the Mini, stood with the first production model in 1959. Car sales in February dropped to the lowest level since that year, SMMT stats show

Alec Issigonis, the designer of the Mini, stood with the first production model in 1959. Car sales in February dropped to the lowest level since that year, SMMT stats show

The one shining light in the statistics released on Thursday is the continued growth of electrified vehicles.

Sales of pure-electric cars – referred to as Battery Electric Vehicles in the report – rose by 40 per cent to 3,516 units in total. 

Plug-in hybrid registrations also grew by 52 per cent, with 3,131 bought last month. 

However, increasing uptake of these new technologies to the levels required by 2030 remains a ‘mammoth task’, the trade body warned – especially with yesterday’s Budget failing to outline any new measures or support for the industry to accelerate the transition away from new petrol and diesel cars and vans that will be banned from sale from 2030. 

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said February is ‘traditionally a small month for car registrations’ and with showrooms closed for the duration, the decline hasn’t come as shock. 

However, Hawes is more concerned that the extended closure of car showrooms through March will suppress the sector’s recover.

Traditionally, around one in five of all new motors bought each year are purchased in March due to the arrival of a new registration number – the ’21’ plate this month.

Showrooms being closed throughout February unsurprisingly resulted in private car sales shrinking by over a third

Showrooms being closed throughout February unsurprisingly resulted in private car sales shrinking by over a third

March is traditionally the most lucrative month for dealers, with buyers flocking to showrooms to get their hands of models with the latest number plate. One in five of all new models bought each year are purchased in March, though sales will be stifled in 2021

March is traditionally the most lucrative month for dealers, with buyers flocking to showrooms to get their hands of models with the latest number plate. One in five of all new models bought each year are purchased in March, though sales will be stifled in 2021

Industry commentators say the forced closure of showroom until 12 April could see a boom in sales in the fourth month as a result of pent-up demand in March, which is usually the most popular time to buy a new car

Industry commentators say the forced closure of showroom until 12 April could see a boom in sales in the fourth month as a result of pent-up demand in March, which is usually the most popular time to buy a new car

With dealers forced to keep their doors locked to customers until 12 April, registrations in March 2021 are expected to be far lower than industry insiders would have hoped if buyers were allowed to step foot in a showroom.

As a result of predicted lower sales in March, the SMMT announced that it has revised its market outlook to 1.83 million new car registrations in 2021, down from the 1.89 million predicted in January – with most of these losses expected to occur in March.

After expressing his expectations of a slower February than in 2020, Hawes said: ‘More concerning is that these closures have stifled dealers’ preparations for March with the expectation that this will now be a third successive dismal ‘new plate month.

‘Although we have a pathway out of restrictions with rapid vaccine rollout, and proven experience in operating click and collect, it is essential that showrooms reopen as soon as possible so the industry can start to build back better, and recover the £23 billion loss from the past year.’

Sue Robinson, Chief Executive of the National Franchised Dealers Association, says retailers remain buoyant about 2021 despite facing a slower March

Sue Robinson, Chief Executive of the National Franchised Dealers Association, says retailers remain buoyant about 2021 despite facing a slower March

Sue Robinson, Chief Executive of the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA), said retailers remain buoyant despite facing a slower March.

‘Looking ahead, with showrooms due to reopen soon and significant pent-up demand, dealers are optimistic,’ she said.

‘The plate change month will incentivise consumers and there is significant pent up demand, as evidenced by industry data suggesting that many car buyers are waiting for dealerships to reopen to complete their purchases.’ 

Michael Woodward, UK automotive lead at Deloitte, echoed the NFDA’s optimism when commenting on the February sales figures.

He said: ‘Showrooms are scheduled to reopen on 12 April, albeit with social distancing measures in place. The combination of pent-up demand and a clearer roadmap out of lockdown has boosted consumer confidence. We expect to see a major uptick in sales once showroom doors reopen, with dealers and manufacturers challenged with managing demand.

‘Much of the pent-up demand will stem from the clamour for new plates, usually seen in March. While this will have a positive impact on sales in April, the loss of sales in March could lead to cash flow and planning implications for the industry.’ 

 

The Ford Fiesta (pictured) was the best-selling new car in February but still sits behind the Vauxhall Corsa in the standings for the year so far

The Ford Fiesta (pictured) was the best-selling new car in February but still sits behind the Vauxhall Corsa in the standings for the year so far

In terms of model sales in February, Ford’s Fiesta reclaimed its title as the nation’s favourite new car, with 1,645 bought last month.

It marginally beat the Vauxhall Corsa, though its supermini rival remains the best-seller for 2021 over the first two months.

Third in the list was the Sunderland-built Nissan Qashqai. In February, the Japanese brand unveiled the latest third-generation of the SUV, which would have sparked dealers discounting prices of the current model to make-way for the 2021 vehicle.

Those motorists looking to buy a car this month can read our story on the 12 popular models with the best discounts offered so far in 2021. 

As for the current Mini, it didn’t make it into the top 10 most-registered models in February. 

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