The number of new cars registered in the UK fell 44.4% year-on-year in March, while the number of new vans registered fell 54.3% as curbs on movement to stop the spread of COVID-19 brought economic activity to a halt.
Some 203,370 fewer cars were registered than in March 2019, as showrooms closed in line with government advice to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
However total of 254,684 cars were registered in the month, while 30,247 vans were registered, compared to 66,123 in March 2019.
The SMMT said that the car market fall was steeper that the fall during the 2009 financial crisis.
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It also said that with lockdowns taking place in many European countries earlier than the UK, even more dramatic falls have been reported elsewhere in Europe, with Italy down 85%, France 72% and Spain down 69% in March.
Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “With the country locked down in crisis mode for a large part of March, this decline will come as no surprise.”
He said that the falls could have been worse had significant advanced orders placed for the new 20 plate not been delivered in the early part of the month.
“We should not, however, draw long term conclusions from these figures other than this being a stark realisation of what happens when economies grind to a halt.”