It was bound to be tough but there’s hope – industry figures react to the November new car sales numbers

Time 9:44 am, December 4, 2020

Leading industry figures have been giving their reactions to the November new car sales data.

The SMMT said registrations were down by nearly a third for the month, as reported by Car Dealer.

However, that was still much better than the UK-wide lockdown in the spring, when sales plummeted by 97.3 per cent in April, and 89 per cent in May, while June – which saw showrooms reopening in stages across the UK – saw them fall by 34.9 per cent.

It was always going to be tough

Jim Holder, editorial director, What Car?

‘November was always going to be a tough month for the sector, with dealerships in England under lockdown.

‘But the results show the industry has quickly adapted and evolved following the first lockdown in April, which saw sales come to a complete halt.

‘Part of the adaptation process has been the widespread adoption of online channels to support the sales process. Online sales will no doubt continue to grow in the coming years, so this has been a positive transition for the sector.

‘The next 12 months will be critical for the sector. January to March is a peak trading period for the sector, and it is vital another lockdown is avoided.’

A lot of hope for the year ahead

Karen Hilton, chief commercial officer, heycar

‘As the tier system and national lockdowns continue to impact people’s confidence, the latest figures are unsurprising.

‘Throughout the pandemic, dealers have worked hard to engage with customers via digital channels primarily – getting their stock online, offering video viewings and free delivery.

‘This is new ground for a lot of dealerships, but the way they have embraced new ways of working gives a lot of hope for the year ahead.

‘Of course, as well as coronavirus and the predicted sharp rise in unemployment that it will bring in 2021, Brexit will add another layer of uncertainty when it comes to predicting how things are going to go.’

Industry keen to reset and rebound

James Fairclough, CEO, AA Cars

‘England’s November lockdown unsurprisingly knocked new car sales into reverse.

‘As England unlocks once again, the industry will be keen to reset and rebound in December, with dealers likely to fight hard for sales in the run-up to Christmas in an effort to recoup some of the earnings lost during 2020.

‘Looking ahead to 2021, the government’s plan for a mass vaccination programme has buoyed expectations that the industry will be able to trade more normally. The tougher question will be how the pandemic’s economic fallout will affect people’s willingness to purchase big-ticket items like a brand-new car.’

We needed a miracle before Christmas

Alex Buttle, director,

‘November’s new car registrations were disappointing and yet another blow to the car industry, which needed something of a miracle before Christmas.

Electric and hybrid car sales once again stand out amongst the gloom, with battery-electric car registrations in particular continuing to climb upwards at a healthy rate.

‘December is typically a slow month for new car sales and this year is likely to be slower than normal. With dealerships physically open again, we may see a slight uplift in trade, but the economic backdrop for 2021 is likely to drag down sales.’

A perfect storm of challenges

David Borland, automotive leader, EY UK & Ireland

‘The perfect storm of challenges affecting the automotive industry continues unabated, with the pandemic, Brexit and supply issues all impacting consumer confidence and demand for new vehicles.

‘Against this backdrop and Lockdown 2.0 closing showrooms in England for the month of November, it comes as no surprise that new registrations suffered significantly.

‘With the recent announcements by the government in its “Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution”, which included the sales ban of ICE vehicles from 2030, it is clear that the longer-term transformation is as important as the challenges the sector faces today.’

A silver lining to this second lockdown

Seán Kemple, managing director, Close Brothers Motor Finance

‘Just as the Welsh ‘‘firebreak’’ lockdown caused a crash in October’s sales for the country, the English national lockdown in November has inevitably caused a significant overall drop in the new car market.

‘But there is a silver lining to this second lockdown. Unlike the first time around, dealers have had the benefit of being on the front foot when it comes to their digital forecourt, as well as delivery services like click-and-collect.

‘There is growing appetite from consumers to research and pay for their car digitally, which has enabled registrations to keep moving throughout restricted circumstances and get new cars into people’s driveways during the English lockdown.’

Don’t take your foot off the gas

Ian Plummer, commercial director, Auto Trader

‘The market might be down, but given the circumstances of closed dealerships for virtually the entire month, it’s hugely impressive, and highlights the rapid adoption of digital retailing amongst car buyers and sellers alike.

‘However, retailers can ill afford to take their foot off the gas.

‘Fifty-three per cent of customers who buy in January do their research in December.

‘Therefore, getting stock in front of today’s browsers will be essential to ensuring the industry starts 2021 in the very strongest position to capitalise on the most profitable period of the year.’

December’s sales prospects look slim

Michael Woodward, UK automotive lead, Deloitte

‘The prospects for an uptick in sales in December are slim.

‘Pent-up demand is expected to be lower than after the first UK-wide lockdown, and many consumers will likely prioritise Christmas presents over other major purchases.

‘As the year ends, the industry continues to rely on aftersales and maintenance to get through this challenging time.

‘In the final month of the year, attention is shifting firmly towards Brexit and its impact on automotive production in the UK.’

EV announcements could mean further uptick

Karen Johnson, head of retail & wholesale, Barclays Corporate Banking

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‘Many purchases made before the lockdown will still have been collected and registered last month.

‘Dealers should continue to benefit from the lessons they learnt from the first lockdown, and from the investments that many made in adapting their business models and e-commerce capabilities.

‘Recent announcements on the future of electric vehicles will have improved consumer confidence and may well lead to further uptick in these type of vehicle purchases.’

John Bowman's avatar

John has been with Car Dealer since 2013 after spending 25 years in the newspaper industry as a reporter then a sub-editor/assistant chief sub-editor on regional and national titles. John is chief sub-editor in the editorial department, working on Car Dealer, as well as handling social media.

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