With factories and dealerships closed by the coronavirus crisis, European auto sales could fall by up to 20 percent this year, representing millions of vehicles, industry analysts and financial ratings services say.
"The global auto industry is expected to witness an unprecedented and almost instant stalling of demand in 2020," said IHS Markit, whose forecasts are used by many automakers and suppliers as a basis for strategic decisions.
IHS said it had downgraded its forecasts across "virtually all regions." The firm called the coronavirus pandemic "the single biggest risk factor facing the auto industry for many years."
Global sales will fall by more than 12 percent this year to 78.8 million units, IHS forecasts, a downgrade of 10 million units from the company’s January forecast. In comparison, the two-year "peak to trough" decline during the global recession in 2008-2009 was 8 percent.
Near-term global sales are forecast to fall sharply, followed by a slow recovery.
The company has downgraded its 2020 forecast for Europe (western and central Europe) by 1.9 million units, to 15.6 million, a decline of 14 percent over earlier forecasts.
The region "faces months of rolling disruption as the conjoined health and economic crises play out across economies," IHS said.
U.S. auto sales are forecast to be 14.4 million this year, a 15 percent decline, and 2.4 million units fewer than prior forecasts.
Another forecaster, LMC Automotive, expects 2020 global light vehicle sales to fall below 77 million, a decline of nearly 14 million, or 15 percent below the 2019 level. "The environment remains extremely dynamic," LMC said.
In the worst case, LMC said global sales could fall to 69 million. LMC said it had removed about 3 million units each from sales forecasts for China, North America and western Europe.
In January, LMC had forecast global sales to be flat from 2019, at 90.1 million units.
"A global market, with some growth headwinds from a slowing economy and trade still a risk in the background, quickly changed to a global market in chaos, a situation that is likely to remain for some time," LMC said.
Morgan Stanley said European auto sales in 2020 will be around 12.5 million units compared with 13.7 million in its earlier prediction. In percentage terms, it now expects the market to fall by 13 percent compared with an earlier prediction of a 4 percent drop.
Global sales will fall by 8 million in the first half, Morgan Stanley said, representing a nearly 20 percent drop. It added that a previous forecast that 50 percent of that loss could be recovered in the second half "now seems unlikely."
Chinese sales will fall by an additional 3 million units, or a 15 percent decline, and the U.S. market will fall by an additional 1 million units, Morgan Stanley said.