UK car sales dive 44% in virus downturn

LONDON (AFP/APP): New car sales in Britain dived 44 percent last month as the country’s lockdown triggered by the coronavirus outbreak shut show rooms, industry data showed Monday.

It comes as UK-based research group, the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), estimated that Britain’s lockdown was costing its economy more that £2.4 billion ($2.9 billion, 2.7 billion euros) per day in lost output across all main sectors.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders meanwhile said that UK car sales suffered the worst March since the late 1990s.

“In the important plate change month, 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,” the SMMT said in a statement.

“The performance represented a steeper fall than during the 2009 financial crisis,” it added.

Sales are normally boosted by the twice-a-year number plate change that occurs in March and September.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said the data represented “a stark realisation of what happens when economies grind to a halt”.

It comes as the CEBR said Britain’s “lockdown is leading to a reduction in economic output of 31 percent”.

Total output stands at around £5.35 billion per day, down from almost £7.8 billion before implementation of the tougher restrictions two weeks ago.

“The manufacturing sector is set to see the highest fall in output in absolute terms, as workers producing goods and services that are not deemed to be essential cannot do so remotely — and because export demand and sometimes domestic demand have fallen sharply,” the CEBR said in a report.

With manufacturing down 69 percent, “the scale of the fall is important since most of the government schemes to provide relief for businesses are focused towards the service sector”, it added.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in hospital on Monday undergoing tests after suffering “persistent” symptoms of coronavirus, ordered a nationwide lockdown in late March. And Britain is now in the grip of a serious outbreak, with almost 50,000 confirmed hospital cases and nearly 5,000 deaths.