UK light vehicle sales were released on Monday by the SMMT and they showed a market that had fallen 45.6% in March (with cars down 44.4% and LCVs more than halved).

In any other period of time such a cataclysmic fall would have garnered headlines around the world. This time they were just further confirmation of what we already know. The automotive industry is in deep trouble thanks to COVID-19.

March is the UK market’s number one selling month thanks to it being the month of the first new registration (license) plates being available. Come September, the UK’s second biggest selling month thanks to another registration plate change, the industry in the UK will be hoping that the market is in recovery.

That’s the current basis of our registration outlook for the UK and other European markets. Social distancing and lockdowns  decimate  markets  in  March  through  to  May.  Come  the  beginning  of  summer  measures  begin  to  ease  and  a semblance  of  normality  returns.  How  normal  that  return  is, nobody can say just yet. We can’t even be sure that some normality will return by the beginning of summer.

Assuming normal movement is restored there will be a certain level of pent-up demand created for vehicles. But much of that will depend on how robust the economy proves to be on the other side of this extraordinary journey. Presently, on  the  basis  of  a  v-shaped  recovery  and  factoring  in  some  market  over-exuberance in Q4 we forecast a UK light vehicle market at 2.2 million in 2020. That’s 18.2% down on 2019’s figure. The SMMT is more bearish, seeing a fall of 25% being possible for the year.

When  the auto  industry hits  turbulent times, it  can  normally bank  on  support  from governments.  After  the  power  sector the industry’s the number one economic multiplier – ie it supports far more jobs indirectly than it does directly. Estimates vary between five and eight for the number of jobs created for every direct job role in the automotive sector. For these reasons, it’s thought that governments will once again seek to boost vehicle demand once the public health risk has passed. In the last crisis, scrappage schemes were employed, and skewed the market towards small, cheap, affordable cars.  This  time,  to  support  the  green  movement and  huge  investments  made  by  the  sector,  there  are increasing  calls  to give EV sales a boost through any such scrappage scheme.