The impact of COVID-19 on car sales in the UK

The impact of COVID-19 on car sales in the UK

The year 2020 in retrospect

This year has been a rough ride, no pun intended. 2020 began with the spread of a global pandemic. There is hardly any aspect of life that has remained unaffected by the novel virus. In fact, it has altered all areas of our daily routine. Its consequences have been such that the world had not seen for over a hundred years. The widescale lockdowns of entire countries have had an adverse impact on the economy, and the car industry has been no different in feeling the wrath of the Coronavirus.

COVID-19 car sales

If you are a car enthusiast, working in the automotive industry, or looking for buying or selling a car, then you might be wondering about car sales amid coronavirus outbreak.

The car industry in the UK has witnessed a unique year, quite contrary to the trend persistent in previous years. Due to the lockdowns imposed upon car dealerships and other public places as of late March, the revenues for car dealerships fell by £1 billion. A massive fall of 38% in revenues for the same period in 2019.

Sales saw a sharp fall because, unlike fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs), purchase of cars could not take place online. Consumers want the experience of going into a car dealership and getting first-hand information as well as a ‘feel’ for the car itself. Buying a car is a significant investment and taking a test drive is the least customers can do to ensure that this long-term investment is well worth the expense.

The turning tides

Despite the losses incurred in the first half of 2020, the overall outlook is not all doom and gloom. In fact, the car industry’s sales has seen a resurgence after the easing of the lockdown measures by the government. Car dealerships have reopened and allowed to conduct business as usual, albeit following standard operating procedures (SOP).

The July numbers look strong, with an 11% increased sales figure compared to the same time in 2019. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the COVID-19 lockdown left resulted in sales of almost 175,000 cars. The numbers itself speak volumes for car sales during coronavirus.

Reasons for the upsurge

There are two main reasons for the increase in sales of cars amidst COVID-19. These are as follows:

  1. People are flocking to buying cars after delaying the purchase during the COVID-19 lockdown. Many customers had already decided to purchase a car and saved up for it. This meant that once the car dealerships reopened, individuals rushed to make their purchases. Again, statistics from the SMMT showed that car sales for March were just 4,321 compared to the same month last year in which 161,064 cars were sold. Showroom closures implemented after 23rd March ultimately resulting in people delaying car buying indefinitely. All pending purchasing started once the dealerships began to open up again.
  2. The onset of COVID-19 has really transformed the way we live and go about our lives. Even though the nationwide lockdown has been lifted and the rules are easing up, in the absence of an effective vaccine, the threat of another major wave of Coronavirus is ever-present. This is why individuals are avoiding public transportation, which are hotbeds of infection. Resultantly, many people are buying a car during coronavirus period. Hence, the demand and purchase of secondhand cars have seen a surge.

In many ways, the sales trend within the car industry is indicative of the way the COVID-19 has changed the way we live our lives.

The future is electric

The most surprising trend has been the sales of electric cars as opposed to combustion engine cars. While the car industry was reeling to a halt by April, with sales down by 97%, the lowest since 1946, the sales of electric cars saw a decrease of just 10%.

This because with electric cars, the sales are not as dependent upon car dealerships as with traditional combustion engine cars.

There is also an enormous amount of uncertainty about emission regulation within the UK due to the impending move out of the EU. After Brexit, individuals in the UK will no longer abide by the emission regulation implemented by the EU. The allowable emissions may be higher or lower than the EU level; however, there is no telling. This is why many people are just buying electric cars, which minimize emissions, as a failsafe. Better safe than sorry!

Electric cars make up for 3% of global car sales; however, the number of electric vehicles sold each year is growing at an accelerating rate. Increased innovation, combined with a greater sense of social responsibility as well as government regulation, is likely to further encourage this positive trend of reducing emissions by using electric cars.

In the UK, car sales of electric cars have tripled in 2020 from their sales in 2019. This provides a glimpse into the future of the car industry as we know it, and the future is electric.

Buying a car during COVID-19

So, what if you have a plan of buying a car during coronavirus crisis? You could go for a brand-new car or an old one. New vehicles come in small, medium, and SUV categories, and the car prices range for each is shown in the table below:

Car size category

Price range







If you simply want to avoid public transport and practice distancing and think that a used car will suffice, then you can get a good deal for the median price of a used car as £12,000. So, you know what you can expect from the market.

Key points to remember

As an informed consumer, here are a few key points you must keep in mind:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to impact the car industry for the next two years. The extent of the impact will critically depend upon innovations within the industry and the government’s response to the issue.
  • COVID-19 social distancing restrictions are and will change the way people travel and, by extension, their car-buying habits.
  • Emission control regulation will transform the car industry by encouraging the use of electric cars as opposed to combustion engine cars.