LONDON -- UK new-car sales slumped by 97 percent in April to the lowest level of any month since February 1946 as factories and dealerships shut due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Sales to businesses in April accounted for four in five of the 4,321 new-car registrations, according to data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), which further downgraded its full-year forecast to 1.68 million sales, on track for a near 30-year low. In January it had forecast 2.25 million sales.
"Safely restarting this most critical sector and revitalizing what will, inevitably, be subdued demand will be key to unlocking manufacturing and accelerating the UK's economic regeneration," SMMT CEO Mike Hawes said.
Demand in France fell by 88 percent last month, while sales in Italy plunged 98 percent.
Britain's car industry, the country's biggest exporter of goods, faces losing output worth more than 8 billion pounds ($9.94 billion) due to the coronavirus outbreak, according to the SMMT.
Output in the industry has fallen 14 percent so far this year and sales have dropped 43 percent.
In February 1946, just a few months after the end of World War II, just 4,044 new cars were sold in Britain, which was still undergoing rationing and trying to rebuild after wartime destruction, under its first majority Labour government.
Top-selling Model 3
The top-selling car in Britain, normally produced by automakers such as Ford, Volkswagen and Vauxhall, was the Tesla Model 3 in April, which sold 658 units.
High-value but low-volume luxury brands Rolls-Royce and Aston Martin began reopening their factories this week, but larger-scale production is not due to resume until later in May when Jaguar Land Rover and Mini are set to resume some output.
Britain's biggest car factory, operated by Nissan in Sunderland, will not be building cars until June.
The collapse in car sales puts more pressure on the UK economy, which is on course for an unprecedented quarterly contraction of at least 7 percent, a survey showed on Tuesday, as the coronavirus crimps activity.
Lockdown measures have been in place across Europe since mid-March to contain the pandemic, shutting many companies and limiting people's movements, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson expected to detail this week how measures will be slowly eased.