PARIS — Europe's car sales, slammed by the coronavirus crisis in 2020, were supposed to bounce back this year. But instead, registrations fell by 26 percent in January.
The declines more closely resembled the dark days of last spring, when factories were closed and Europeans were confined to their homes in an effort to combat the coronavirus. Last month's sales in Spain took a 51 percent hit, Britain's fell 40 percent — to a low last seen in 1970 — and Germany, Europe's biggest market, lost 31 percent.
At the same time, sales in China rose 30 percent. And demand in the U.S. held up, too, with the seasonally adjusted annual sales rate just under pre-pandemic levels of 17 million.
So what happened in Europe?
Initial optimism over COVID-19 vaccines faded as countries descended into infighting over supply and bureaucratic snags. With vaccine rollout slow and new virus variants discovered in Britain and other countries, months-long restrictions on movement and commerce, such as curfews and the closure of large retail spaces — including dealership showrooms — have not been lifted.