UK new car registrations finally returned to year on year growth in July with an 11.3% increase to 174,887 vehicles, as dealerships across the nation fully reopened.
Year to date sales, however, were down 41.9% to 828,389 and expected to be off 30% by the end of 2020, which the Society of Motor Manufacturers (SMMT) calculated was equivalent to GBP20bn in lost sales.
Private sale volume rose 20.4% to 79,929 units last month while fleet sales were up 5.2% to 91,857 and business sales fell 11.8% to 3,101.
"This represents a significant improvement on the same month last year, when declining business and consumer confidence undermined the market," the SMMT said.
Pent-up demand and special offers led to a reprieve for the sector but overall registrations were still down by 41.9% or 598,054 units year to date.
The SMMT said the 20.4% increase in private registrations was primarily a result of consumers finally being able to renew their cars after lockdown had forced them to delay. In addition, manufacturer incentives had helped attract customers to showrooms. Eight of the 10 major manufacturers provided attractive finance offers and flexible payment terms in a bid to head off consumer uncertainty – vital as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme phases out, potentially sparking redundancies across the economy and impacting confidence to invest in big ticket purchases.
Public appetite for zero and ultra low emission cars remained stable with plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles taking a 9% share of registrations for July, compared with 9.5% last month and up from 3.1% for 2019 overall.
Meanwhile, supermini and lower medium sized (or small family) cars were once again the most popular segments, accounting for 59.1% of registrations. Dual Purpose cars comprised 25.9% of vehicles registered.
Business car registrations showed modest growth, with fleet purchases increasing by 5.2%. Even so, more than 13,000 jobs have now been lost by UK Automotive across retail and manufacturing as a result of the pandemic, with more likely to follow given the scale of the challenges facing the sector, including shifts in technology, Brexit uncertainty and a depressed market.
Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said, "July's figures are positive with a boost from demand pent up from earlier in the year and some attractive offers meaning there are some very good deals to be had. We must be cautious, however, as showrooms have only just fully reopened nationwide and there is still much uncertainty about the future.
"By the end of September we should have a clearer picture of whether or not this is a long term trend. Although this month's figures provide hope, the market remains fragile in the face of possible future spikes and localised lockdowns as well as, sadly, probable job losses across the economy. The next few weeks will be crucial in showing whether or not we are on the road to recovery."