Insight: what we’ve learned from June car sales

Dramatic changes in buying habits emerged from UK car sales figures for June, the first full month that car retailers have been open post-lockdown.

UK new car sales fell 34.9% year on year in June. The figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), announced earlier this week, show a significant improvement over April and May (down 97% and 89% respectively) but are still far from the industry’s hoped-for comeback, after being out of action for more than two months.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes described June’s new car sales as “not a recovery and barely a restart.” He added: “Many of June’s registrations could be attributed to customers finally being able to collect their pre-pandemic orders, and appetite for significant spending remains questionable.”

There were 145,377 new cars sold in June, a decline of 78,044 units over June 2019. For the year to date, the market has fallen by almost half (48.5%), with 653,502 new cars sold in the first six months making it the lowest level since 1971.

However, while the decline certainly reflects economic uncertainty, UK-wide retailers are not yet fully up and running. Only English dealerships were open for the full month, with delayed reopenings for Welsh and Scottish showrooms. In England, one in five retailers remains shut and reports suggest upwards of 30% of sales staff remain on furlough.

The irregularities of the top 10 best-selling cars from the past few months started to normalise in June, with the main players, the Vauxhall Corsa and Ford Fiesta, back at number one and two spots.

That’s in stark contrast to April, when the Tesla Model 3 – never before even in the top 10 – became the best-selling car, with 658 sold. This was thanks to socially distanced delivery of a number of pre-ordered sales before the lockdown. Nevertheless, the electric Model 3 remains at number nine in June’s top sellers.

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Nonetheless, car retailers remain cautious about the year ahead. Jardine Motor CEO Neil Williamson described its sales in June as “better than our worst-case scenario”, adding: “Let’s wait and see if it continues.”

Vertu boss Robert Forrester said: “June saw robust sales in all areas of the business, reflecting pent-up demand, and this is expected to continue for some time. We should not declare victory too early given the economic weakness likely to be created by the rise of redundancies across the UK and many sectors in major trouble. This may be only the end of the beginning.”