UK new car sales in the month of April fell by a staggering 97.3% as the market was effectively frozen under COVID-19 lockdown rules that shuttered dealerships across the nation.

The SMMT said 4,321 new cars registered in the month as deliveries continued to frontline workers and organisations.

April’s sales total is the lowest monthly sales figure for the UK new car market since February 1946.

The decline was the steepest of modern times, and is in line with similar falls across Europe, with France down 88.8% down and the Italian market falling 97.5% in April.

Fleet orders represented by far the bulk of the April 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 SMMT now expects to record just 1.68m new UK car sales for 2020, the lowest annual total since 1992 and down from 2.3m in 2019.Despite the overall market drop, the UK’s BEV market is expected to double in 2020 to 77,300 units as new model introductions bolster the market.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said: “With the UK’s showrooms closed for the whole of April, the market’s worst performance in living memory is hardly surprising. These figures, however, still make for exceptionally grim reading, not least for the hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on the sector. A strong new car market supports a healthy economy and as Britain starts to plan for recovery, we need car retail to be in the vanguard. Safely restarting this most critical sector and revitalising what will, inevitably, be subdued demand will be key to unlocking manufacturing and accelerating the UK’s economic regeneration.”