EU new-car registrations plummeted 55% in March

17 April 2020

17 April 2020

With lockdown measures introduced in most markets during March in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the majority of European dealerships were closed in the second half of the month. Consequently, new-car registrations in the EU suffered a dramatic decline of 55.1% year-on-year, according to figures released by the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) today. The volume of new-car registrations fell from 1,264,569 units in March 2019 to 567,308 in March 2020.

All 27 EU markets contracted last month, but the greatest declines were reported in Italy (down 85%), France (down 72%) and Spain (down 69%). Early in March, Autovista Group predicted that the Italian market would suffer the most, at least in the short term, because of the high number of reported cases of COVID-19 and the extension of emergency measures to cover the whole country. Among the smaller EU member states, year-on-year contractions of more than 60% were also reported in the new-car markets of Austria, Greece, Ireland and Slovenia. 

The 38% fall in new-car registrations in Germany amid the coronavirus crisis was less dramatic than in the other major European markets. Numerous smaller markets proved even more resilient, including the Czech Republic, Hungary and the Netherlands. The smallest contractions occurred in Sweden and Finland, where new car-registrations fell by only 8.6% and 0.9% respectively.

Registrations down by a quarter in Q1

In the first quarter of 2020, registrations of new cars in the EU fell by 25.6% as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the March figures significantly expanded the 7% contraction in the first two months of the year. The greatest losses were in Italy, France, Austria and Spain, which all fell by more than 30% in the first quarter.

The EU market contraction in the first quarter of 2020 was compounded by a combination of tax changes introduced in some EU member states, which pulled demand forward into December 2019.

New-car registrations, year-on-year % change, March 2020 and Q1 2020

March EU sales

Source: Autovista Group based on ACEA data

UK excluded from EU figures

ACEA excludes the UK from the EU registration figures and has applied this change retrospectively to ensure like-for-like comparison. ‘Although the UK was still part of the EU in January 2020, ACEA has decided to base the entire 2020 cycle of press releases – including the month of January – on the new EU27 aggregate (excluding the United Kingdom). This will improve clarity in reporting data and will result in one full-year total for 2020 based on a single perimeter, i.e. the EU27,’ ACEA said in a statement issued on 12 February,

New-car registrations in the UK plummeted 44.4% year-on-year in March and 31% in the first quarter. The Autovista Group base-case forecast for 2020 has been revised downwards to a 20% contraction, from 3% previously. In this base-case scenario, disruption is expected to continue for about six months.

‘In our base case-scenario, I foresee a loss of 600,000 registrations in the coming months but not all of this pent-up demand will be recovered by the end of the year and hence the decline to 1.84 million registrations in 2020, 20% down on 2019,’ explained Autovista Group senior data journalist Neil King.

Manufacturer performance

Among the leading carmakers, it comes as no surprise that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) suffered the greatest loss in EU demand in March, registering 76.6% fewer cars in the month. Renault and PSA Group were similarly affected by the severe market contraction in France, registering 64.7% and 68.1% fewer cars in the EU respectively.

Ford, Honda, Mazda, Nissan and Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) also suffered declines of more than 60% in EU new-car registrations in March. Aided by the limited impact of COVID-19 on the new-car market in Sweden, Volvo was the most resilient manufacturer in the month, but even registrations of the Swedish premium brand fell by a third across the EU.