UK new car registrations declined – 97.3% in April, according to figures published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. This marked a record low for the new car market as the coronavirus pandemic forced the nation into lockdown for the entire month, with showrooms closed and car buyers housebound.

Just 4,321 new cars were registered in the month, some 156,743 fewer than in April 2019, with many delivered to key workers and front line public services and companies. The decline was the steepest of modern times, and is in line with similar falls across Europe, with France -88.8% down and the Italian market falling -97.5% in April.

Fleet orders represented by far the bulk of the market, taking 71.5% market share, equivalent to 3,090 units, while private buyers registered just 871 cars – a year on year fall of –98.7%. The distortion was reflected across all segments and fuel types, with the numbers of new petrol and diesel cars joining UK roads down -98.5% and -97.6% respectively, as plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) declined -95.1% and hybrids (HEVs) -99.3%. Meanwhile, the niche battery electric vehicles sector saw a smaller percentage decrease of -9.7%, as some pre-ordered deliveries of the latest premium models were able to be fulfilled.

Despite showrooms being closed for the month of April, companies managed to support key workers, critical companies and frontline services. Meanwhile, the industry has continued to keep service and repair workshops open to maintain vehicles that are so crucial in keeping key services, goods and people moving safely across the country.

The news comes as SMMT releases its latest new car market forecast for 2020, downgrading previous expectations to just 1.68 million registrations. This puts the sector on course to record its worst performance since 1992’s 1.59 million units, below the levels seen during the financial crisis and some -27% lower than the 2.31 million new cars registered in 2019.  Despite this, the BEV market is expected to double in 2020 to 77,300 units as new model introductions bolster the market.