Passenger car sales in the European Union (EU) in March – the UK no longer included – plunged 55.1% year on year as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) said.

“With containment/lockdown measures taking hold in most markets from around the middle of the month, the vast majority of European dealerships were closed during the second half of March. Consequently, demand across the region fell by more than half last month, dropping from 1,264,569 units registered in March 2019 to 567,308 units,” ACEA said.

The news came a day after Volkswagen and Porsche SE scrubbed their 2020 financial forecasts but VW also announced a tentative and gradual restart of production, of both cars and commercial vehicles from 20 April. Some European countries have begun to relax lockdown restrictions.

ACE said all 27 EU markets contracted in March, but Italy took the biggest hit with registrations falling by 85.4% to 28,326 new cars (compared to 194,302 units in March 2019). Likewise, demand also collapsed in France (-72.2%) and Spain (-69.3%) last month. Germany recorded a less extreme drop than the other key markets, but registrations fell by 37.7% nevertheless.

From January to March 2020, demand for new cars in the European Union declined by 25.6%, with the impact of the corona crisis on March figures weighing heavily on the total. Each of the major EU markets posted significant losses so far in 2020: Italy -35.5%, France -34.1%, Spain -31% and Germany -20.3%.

ACEA no longer includes the UK in its EU tally. It defines European Union as the “new composition” with 27 member states as the UK heads for Brexit this year. For year on year comparisons, historical data is recalculated to adjust to the new EU27 perimeter.

As reported earlier, the UK car market was down 44.5% in March. The SMMT noted it was a steeper fall than during last financial crisis and the worst March since the late 1990s (before the registration number plate year identifier changes that boosted the months of March and September). Early SMMT analysis also downgrades the 2020 outlook to a new UK car market of 1.73m units, over a fifth down on the previous expectation.

Comment – UK light vehicle sales tank 46%, no surprises