News, Culture & Society

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter outsells all passenger cars during lockdown in April

The UK’s most registered car in April was in fact a van.

Mercedes-Benz sold 814 versions of its Sprinter commercial vehicle last month, outperforming every passenger car on the market. 

The Tesla Model 3 was the UK’s top-selling new car with 658 registrations, but Elon Musk’s victory came in exceptional circumstances with the market down 97 per cent.

The logjam of UK pre-orders for the electric car continued to arrive and boost registration figures, even while the nation’s auto dealers were in lockdown. 

Best selling motor in April is a VAN: Mercedes-Benz Sprinter outsold every passenger car on the market last month as dealers were in lockdown due to the coronavirus

The most-registered light commercial vehicles (vans) in April, topped by the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

The best-selling passenger cars in April, with Tesla's Model 3 at the top of the charts

 The best-selling new motor in April was the Mercedes Sprinter. The list on the left shows van registrations in April, while the ranking on the right is for passenger cars, with Sprinters out-selling the Tesla Model 3 marginally

Official figures published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders this morning confirmed a 97.3 per cent decline in new car sales last month with only 4,321 passenger cars registered – with showrooms closed during the coronavirus pandemic. 

A backlog of orders for in-demand electric cars – including the Tesla, Jaguar’s £64,000 I-Pace, and Nissan’s Leaf – saw battery models registrations dominate April, while Ford – usually the most-bought brand in Britain – shifted just 306 cars.

Among the other top-selling, low sales cars were a motley crew of motors, including a pair of Vauxhall’s, the Corsa and Crossland X, family hatches in Seat’s Leon, Mercedes A-Class and Peugeot’s 308, and the Ford Tourneo Custom and Peugeot Rifter, which are popular mobility options.

However, all were registered in fewer numbers than Mercedes’ Sprinter, which topped the light commercial vehicles sales figures for April.

That’s despite the UK new van market shrinking at a similar rate to cars in April, with commercial vehicle registrations down 86.2 per cent last month. 

To put this into context, just over 5,000 Sprinter have been registered in the first four months of 2020. That compares to almost 16,000 Ford Fiestas – the most popular passenger car – sold so far this year.

The SMMT told This is Money that this is the first instance of a van out-selling the most popular car in a single month for 30 years.

In June 1990, Ford sold 4,384 Transit vans. In the same month, the best-selling passenger car was the Escort with 4,271 registrations. 

The SMMT confirmed that April 2020 is now the record low month for the new car market, with reports claiming it was the smallest volume of motor sales since 1946.

The figures come as no surprise given that showrooms were in lockdown and car buyers were housebound for most of the month.  

Some 156,743 fewer cars were registered compared to April 2019, with many of these vehicles being delivered to key workers and front line public services and companies. 

However, the list of top 10 sellers suggests registration figures were inflated by the logjam of UK pre-orders for electric cars and mobility vehicles.

The sales chart was topped by Tesla for the first time in UK history, with Model 3s – priced from £40,490 – being registered to 658 owners in April, which accounts for almost one in seven total registrations last month.

Thousands of UK drivers put their name down for the US firm’s most affordable electric model when order books opened in March 2016, though production delays and holds-ups with deliveries means the logjam of pre-orders placed in the last four years are still arriving today,

Tesla switched to contactless handovers at the customer’s homes or at its delivery  centres when the UK went into lockdown, while many other manufacturers have had to suspend UK operations.

All supporting paperwork for the purchase of the vehicle is pre-organised via the customer’s Tesla Account online, meaning no need to sign contracts with salesmen.

On the day the car is delivered, the vehicle is left in a safe location with access arranged via the Tesla smartphone app.

Some 814 Mercedes-Benz Sprinters were registered last month - that's 156 more than the best-selling passenger car, the Tesla Model 3

Some 814 Mercedes-Benz Sprinters were registered last month – that’s 156 more than the best-selling passenger car, the Tesla Model 3

Tesla tops the shrinking charts: In the record lowest month for the market in the UK, the Tesla Model 3 became the nation's most-registered passenger car for the first time ever

Tesla tops the shrinking charts: In the record lowest month for the market in the UK, the Tesla Model 3 became the nation’s most-registered passenger car for the first time ever

This SMMT chart showcases the scale of the impact on UK car registrations last month, with showrooms being closed to the public and dealers uncertain if they were allowed to sell or deliver vehicles to customers during the lockdown

This SMMT chart showcases the scale of the impact on UK car registrations last month, with showrooms being closed to the public and dealers uncertain if they were allowed to sell or deliver vehicles to customers during the lockdown

The same can be said for other cars listed in the top 10 best sellers for the month.

This includes the Jaguar I-Pace SUV, which was the second most-registered car in April – some 367 units.

Like Tesla, Jaguar also has a build up of orders to fulfill on the premium plug-in family car.

This wasn’t helped by a temporary pause in production at the Graz factory in Austria caused by of a shortage of lithium-ion batteries to power the vehicles – only adding to the accumulating demand for the SUV.

Nissan’s electric Leaf, costing from just under £30,000 in the UK, also made it into the top 10 sellers for the first time, in ninth spot with 72 examples registered – showing the scale of the decline in sales last month.

Customers have been able to place pre-orders for the Tesla Model 3 since March 2016, though UK deliveries only started arriving in June last year (pictured here)

Customers have been able to place pre-orders for the Tesla Model 3 since March 2016, though UK deliveries only started arriving in June last year (pictured here) 

Thousands of UK motorists ordered one of Tesla's most affordable cars, though these are still drip-feeding into the country, which is why the Model 3 has topped the popularity charts in April (photo from June 2019)

Thousands of UK motorists ordered one of Tesla’s most affordable cars, though these are still drip-feeding into the country, which is why the Model 3 has topped the popularity charts in April (photo from June 2019)

Analysis of registrations by brand shows that Ford sold just 306 passenger vehicles last month. That compares to 18,074 in April 2019.

This exemplifies the toll of the UK car market, with one in ten new cars bought in the UK being Fords and the Fiesta being the best-selling model for 11 years.

The most bought Ford last month was the Tourneo Custom – an MPV model that is commonly converted into a mobility vehicle with rear seats removed to make space for wheelchair access.

Some 108 of these were registered in April (the fifth most registered model) along with 94 Peugeot Rifters, which is also a popular model in the motability scheme.

The overall decline in car registrations of almost 100 per cent in April mirrors similar falls across Europe, with France’s new vehicle market down 89 per cent and the Italian sector falling 98 per cent.

These figures for April show that the logjam of electric car orders means BEV sales hadn't fallen at the same significant rate as other fuel types

These figures for April show that the logjam of electric car orders means BEV sales hadn’t fallen at the same significant rate as other fuel types

The Jaguar I-Pace was the second most-registered car in the UK last month, as the British brand is also still delivering orders that were placed well in advance of April

The Jaguar I-Pace was the second most-registered car in the UK last month, as the British brand is also still delivering orders that were placed well in advance of April

Production of the I-Pace in Graz, Austria, also had to be temporarily paused in February as Jaguar had supply issues with the lithium-ion batteries used to power the electric cars

Production of the I-Pace in Graz, Austria, also had to be temporarily paused in February as Jaguar had supply issues with the lithium-ion batteries used to power the electric cars 

Fleet orders represented by far the bulk of registrations, taking 71.5 per cent market, while private buyers registered just 871 cars  – a year on year fall of 99 per cent. 

The distortion was reflected across all segments and fuel types, with the numbers of new petrol and diesel cars joining UK roads down 99 per cent and 98 per cent respectively, as plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) declined by 95 per cent and traditional hybrids (HEVs) down 99 per cent. 

Meanwhile, the performance of the Tesla Model 3 and Jaguar I-Pace saw the still-niche battery electric vehicles sector drop by just 10 per cent.  

In response to the coronavirus shutdown, the SMMT has downgraded its new car sales forecast to just 1.68million registrations in 2020 – the lowest figure in three decades.

This puts the sector on course to record its worst performance since 1992’s 1.59million registrations – a year-on-year decline of more than a quarter.  

Commenting on the April figures, Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said the market’s ‘worst performance in living memory’ was ‘hardly surprising’.  

‘These figures, however, still make for exceptionally grim reading, not least for the hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on the sector,’ he added.

A strong new car market supports a healthy economy and as Britain starts to plan for recovery, we need car retail to be in the vanguard. 

‘Safely restarting this most critical sector and revitalising what will, inevitably, be subdued demand will be key to unlocking manufacturing and accelerating the UK’s economic regeneration.’

UK car dealers remain closed since March 23, when the lockdown was announced. Though the government has given them the green light to sell vehicles online and said they can deliver them to customers if they adhere to social-distancing rules

UK car dealers remain closed since March 23, when the lockdown was announced. Though the government has given them the green light to sell vehicles online and said they can deliver them to customers if they adhere to social-distancing rules

You can buy a car in lockdown – but all purchases will have to be made online 

Recent developments for car dealers means they are now allowed to operate and sell vehicles online, as well as deliver them in accordance to social distancing guidelines. 

At the end of April, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy confirmed the news, with a spokesman stating: ‘We have asked non-essential shops like car dealerships and showrooms in England to close, unless they provide urgent car repairs and other necessary services.

‘They are all able to continue to sell cars remotely and deliver cars, as long as they follow our clear guidance from Public Health England to protect both employees who cannot work from home and their customers.’

The statement gives car dealers the green light to restart business without fear of fines or police intervention, and means drivers can get their hands on new motors while the lockdown is in place.

UK car makers have also outlined their plans to resume production this month, with Rolls-Royce reopening the Goodwood factory on Monday and Aston Martin restarting production of the DBX crossover at St Athan on Tuesday.

Jaguar Land Rover, the UK’s biggest maker, said it will gradually restart manufacturing from April 18, while major brands such as Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz have already restarted assembly lines for new motors across Europe. 

However, with the financial impact of many people being on reduced working hours and pay – and millions placed on the government-supported furlough scheme – the appetite for new vehicles is unlikely to bounce back immediately. 

David Leggett, automotive analyst at GlobalData, said: ‘Although the UK new car market has taken a heavy hit under the Covid-19 crisis and demand will clearly take time to recover to near normal, more sales are expected to come through in the coming months as the government eases lockdown restrictions and reopens the economy.’

Other commentators in the sector had a more positive outlook. 

Michael Woodward, UK automotive lead at Deloitte, said: ‘Whilst UK lockdown restrictions are yet to be eased, when they are this could spark a recovery in sales. 

‘Early signs from China suggest some consumers have purchased either low-cost second hand vehicles or entry-level new cars to reduce public transport usage.

‘The recovery in China was likely helped by the fact that more car purchases are made online. As restrictions in the UK are lifted, some consumers may prefer to purchase online, accelerating the need for dealers and manufacturers to digitise their interactions.’ 

Motoring consumer title What Car? said it has been polling visitors to its website throughout the crisis, with data suggesting that around one in five are ready to buy a car once lockdown lifts.

However, it caveats that this is a result, in many cases, of finance deals coming to an end and lease contracts needing to be renewed. 

The magazine warned last week that buyers expecting big discounts on new cars once the lockdown eases would need to act quickly, as pent-up demand will see existing supply of motors gobbled up and – due to reduced manufacturing output – a shrinking availability of vehicles arriving from factories. 

SAVE MONEY ON MOTORING

Logo L&C

Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


Comments are closed.