MILAN — New-car sales in Italy fell 98 percent in the first 24 days of April compared with the same period in 2019, an analysis of Italian transport ministry figures by research company Dataforce showed. There were just 2,182 registrations in all sales channels, down from 107,930 last year.
The figures give an early look of what the rest of Europe can expect under lockdowns meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Showrooms in Italy were closed starting in early March, and most buyers who had ordered cars earlier were not able to take delivery.
Sales in March were already down by 85 percent.
The lockdown is about to be gradually lifted in Italy, and dealers will be permitted to fully reopen starting on May 4. Germany has already allowed showrooms to open, although they remain closed in the UK, France and Spain, Europe’s other largest auto markets.
UNRAE, which represents foreign automakers in Italy, reported similar figures. On Monday the group said it expected car registrations to fall by up to 98 percent for the full month of April.
Salvatore Saladino, Italy country manager of Dataforce, said final April sales would be 2,500 to 2,600 units, down from 175,654 in 2019.
Saladino said the April tally would have been even lower if not for a single-day move by Renault.
On April 24 the French automaker registered 317 units of the Zoe battery-electric small car with the captive rental company ES Mobility. The volume was much higher than the usual Zoe registration figures in Italy. According to Dataforce, 55 Zoes were registered in March.
Just two more nameplates managed to register more than 100 units in April: the Fiat Panda (157) and Jeep Compass (116).
Sales to private customers saw an unusual market leader in the Tesla Model 3; 58 units of the battery-electric midsize sedan were registered, a 33 percent decline from April 2019.
Tesla is gaining an advantage over traditional automakers during the coronavirus crisis because it does not rely on the traditional dealership model for sales and deliveries
Michele Crisci, the chairman of UNRAE, said in a release that the Italian government should step in in an “unprecedented” way to support the industry.
Among other measures, the group is seeking incentives to stimulate demand for cars emitting up to 95 grams per km of CO2. The current Italian eco-bonus program offers them for cars emitting up to 60 g/km CO2, which limits it to battery-electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles.
Governments in Europe and the U.S. put in place cash incentives or scrapping programs to boost demand amid the 2008-09 financial crisis, with many tied to emission levels or fuel economy. Those measures kept sales at an artificially high level, followed by deep slumps a year or two later before markets stabilized in 2012.
Analysts say it is not clear how consumers will react when coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
Plinio Vanini, the chairman of Gruppo Autotorino, an Italian car dealer that sold more than 29,000 new cars last year, with 1.2 billion euros in revenues, suggested that second-half sales would not make up for months of lost sales during the coronavirus crisis. Many analysts are predicting that European sales will be down more than 20 percent for the year.
“The point is not whether we open one week earlier or later,” Vanini said. “Most dealers have got huge stocks of cars now, we need to destock them before going back to buy from automakers.”
"We've got less ability to absorb new production now, especially given current estimates for a heavy market contraction this year," he added.
Reuters contributed to this report