LITTLE surprise that new car registrations dropped through the floor in April as dealers locked down during the COVID-19 emergency.
New car sales declined by 97.3% in April with 4,321 units registered. Year to date, the market is down -43.4%. In April, fleet orders took a market share of 71.5%. Year to date, sales of battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles remain above last year’s levels.
Sue Robinson, Director of the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA), said that despite these figures, many franchised dealers continued to deliver aftersales service to key workers and the industry is now working hard to enable trading to restart with all necessary measures in place.
She added: “NFDA has been talking to the relevant Government departments and manufacturers to ensure work can commence safely for the benefit of dealerships’ staff and customers.
“Over the coming months, it will be vital to evaluate a support package that stimulates the market and ensures the long-term stability of a sector which is key to the UK economy and provides employment to thousands of people”.
Michael Woodward, UK automotive lead, Deloitte, said registrations were at their lowest monthly level in over 70 years.
He added: “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.
“For UK consumers, as showrooms begin to reopen it could also be a good time to find a bargain. Manufacturers have significant inventory of cars ready for sale, but may be struggling with their cash flow.
“As a result, big discounts may reappear on the forecourt in the short-term, not only to release inventory but also get the supply chain moving again.
“When factories reopen, efficiency and productivity is unlikely to return to pre-lockdown levels immediately, as businesses accommodate the need for social distancing measures in plants, for example.
“Significantly, whilst the rest of the market saw sales fall by over 90%, battery electric vehicle sales only fell by 10% in April, achieving a market share of 32%.”
Andrew Burn, Partner and Head of Automotive at KPMG added that it was unsurprising that the majority of sales were fleet as pre-COVID-19 orders were fulfilled.
“I expect this will most likely drop dramatically as many companies will probably have cancelled orders as part of their rapid cost reduction/cash preservation actions as the country went into lockdown.
“The key questions that cannot be determined currently are what the level of post-lockdown sales will be and whether we will see consumers move away from public transport to cars when lockdown ends but social distancing continues – particularly if it continues for up to a year.
“We are already seeing indications of significant price discounting in the sector over the last few weeks to stimulate some sales, but with a significant proportion of the working population in the UK being furloughed, this is likely to drive low consumer confidence and low car sales.”
However, analysis by Marketing Delivery suggests that during the last week of April there was a significant rise in in the proportion of consumers that responded to dealers’ email communications regarding available used car stock.
Between 19 and 25 April, over three quarters (77%) of potential used car customers who received a tailored email from the dealer where they placed their original inquiry opened the message and then went online to view relevant used car stock.
This is a significant increase over the week 5 to 11 April, at the peak of the coronavirus outbreak, when fewer than half of prospects (49%) engaged with used car stock emails.
Marketing Delivery gathered data from its Car Alerts system, an automated eCRM (electronic customer relationship management) tool which enables dealers to easily share details relating to new stock or price changes for vehicles relevant to a potential customer’s specific original enquiry.
Jeremy Evans, Managing Director, said: “While the sales environment will remain challenging for some time to come, not least due to social distancing measures that all dealers will need to adopt, the outlook is at least starting to improve.”