European car sales suffer worst plunge ever in pandemic

Ben Chapman
Germany Daily Life (AP)
Germany Daily Life (AP)

Car sales across Europe fell at the fastest rate on record last year as the coronavirus pandemic caused a crisis for the automotive industry.

Registrations dropped 23.7 per cent in 2020, the most since the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association began compiling figures 30 years ago.

The figures showed 9.9 million new vehicles were registered last year, around 3 million fewer than in the year before.

Sharp declines were recorded in all major markets, with sales down 32.3 per cent in Spain, 28 per cent in Italy, 25 per cent in France and 19 per cent in Germany.

Registrations picked up in December but remained 3.7 per cent below the same month in 2019.

The UK has fared worse than Europe as a whole, with registrations down 10.9 per cent in December, separate figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders showed.

For the whole year, UK sales were down 29.5 per cent, making it one of Europe's poorest-performing markets.

Michael Dean, Bloomberg Intelligence’s European car market analyst, said that continued lockdowns will weigh on demand in the first months of 2021. He estimates sales will rise 13 per cent this year, though that would still be 15 per cent below 2019 levels.

Electric vehicles were one area of growth, with Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasting that Europe’s plug-in hybrid and battery-only vehicle sales exceeded China’s for the first time. The organisation expects 1.9 million to be sold in 2021, roughly 40 per cent of the global market.

Bloomberg predicts that sales of plug-in hybrid and battery-powered vehicles will exceed sales of diesel cars for the first time in the fourth quarter of this year.

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UK car sales fall to lowest level since 1992