UK registrations fell by 11 percent to 132,682 vehicles in December, ending a turbulent 12 months for the country's auto industry, which was hit by the coronavirus pandemic and uncertainty over Brexit.
Full-year sales plunged nearly 29 percent to 1.63 million in their biggest annual drop since 1943 as lockdown measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 hit the sector, the SMMT trade industry body said in a statement on Wednesday.
The market was particularly hard hit by a 97 percent fall in April, the first full month of a national lockdown.
"We lost nearly three quarters of a million units over three or four months, which we never got back," said SMMT CEO Mike Hawes.
Showrooms in England were closed again during a second lockdown in November but many were better prepared with "click and collect" options, allowing more purchases.
The performance leaves new-car sales at their lowest level since 1992.
Last year, the sector was also awaiting a trade deal with its biggest export market, the European Union. An agreement was reached on Dec. 24, meaning immediate tariffs and disruption were avoided, but the sector warned on Wednesday of additional costs.
In common with other non-essential retail, the car sector faces the challenge of new national lockdowns announced in England and Scotland this week.
The SMMT expects sales to be below 2 million this year, with the sector nervously looking ahead to March, one of the top two selling months of the year due to the change in the license plate series.
Volkswagen was the UK's most popular brand in December, with sales up 6 percent. Ford remained at No. 2 despite a 24 percent sales decline. No. 3 BMW's registrations fell 27 while Mercedes-Benz at No. 4 saw volume drop by 22 percent. No. 5 Audi was down 15 percent. Vauxhall, at No. 6, gained 17 percent.
Sales of battery-powered cars rose 343 percent to 21,914 units, helping the Tesla Model 3 to become the UK's top-selling car for the month.
- Click here for UK sales by brand for December and 12 months.