Global light vehicle sales fell 39% year on year to 5.55m units in March 2020, according to new analysis.

It was the largest year on year monthly decrease since JATO Dynamics started to collect data in 1980 and worse than the global financial crisis month of November 2008 when sales dipped 25%.

GlobalData/just-auto analysis out this week showed the global light vehicle market hit a seasonally adjusted annual running rate (SAAR) of just 54m units in March compared with almost 90m light vehicles sold worldwide in 2019.

“This downward trend is not simply due to the [COVID-19] restrictions of free movement. The industry is being impacted largely by the uncertainty for the future, and this issue started to arise even before the pandemic took hold,” said JATO analyst Felipe Munoz. “We have to remember that the industry was already operating in a challenging environment, especially towards the end of last year. The trade wars, lower economic growth and tougher emissions regulations came long before the COVID-19 crisis. And unlike previous recessions, we’re not just dealing with people’s fears or purchase delays. This time we have to consider that consumers are simply unable to leave their homes.”

First quarter sales fell 26% to 17.42m units.

China, Europe, and the US all saw double digit declines in March. Europe was hit the hardest, with the lowest number of sales for March in 38 years. Passenger cars registrations for the ‘Europe-27’ fell 52% to 848,800 units.

Registrations fell in all 27 markets but the degree of severity varied according to lockdown policy.

All segments across Europe were affecetd by mandatory lockdowns. City cars, MPVs and subcompacts were most affected due to the collapse of the Italian and French markets where small cars are popular. Midsize cars recorded the lowest decrease thanks to the Tesla Model 3, which was Europe’s second best-selling car in March, according to JATO.

Registrations of SUVs fell 48% to 338,300 units while increasing market share to almost 40%.

MG was the only group to post an increase in registrations from 1,327 to 2,592 units.

EV registrations rose 15% to 147,500 units in March achieving a record market share of 17.4% 10.1% higher year on year.

This was due to more electrified vehicles from Mercedes (+44%), Volkswagen (+240%), BMW (+15%), Hyundai (+25%), Volvo (+79%), and Suzuki.

BEV  and PHEV volume rose but hybrid saw a decline of 11% with BEVs only 10,000 units less than hybrids.

Unlike China, the recovery for Europe is likely to be U-shaped rather than V-shaped, JATO said.

March sales in the US fell 38% to 1m units, a smaller decrease than both China and Europe.

As COVID-19 didn’t spread to the US as early as those markets, quarantine only came into effect in some parts of the country during the month.

Demand in Latin America fell by 30% to 318,000 units, following restrictions in Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Peru, and more recently Brazil and Mexico. Volume was also affected by the economic crisis in Argentina, the region’s third largest market.

JATO said China had improved since February when sales shrank 79% year on year. March production resumed to 75% of the 2019 yearly average but some demand has not returned as the epidemic isn’t over there yet.

March sales fell 30% compared to 78% in February. Further performance improvement was expected in April with the continuous decline of the epidemic as well as a series of central and local government policies propping up the car market.