European Car Sales Sank Like a Stone in March; April Not Looking Any Better

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
european car sales sank like a stone in march april not looking any better

The coronavirus pandemic took a sizable bite out of new car registrations in the European Union last month. Volume was down 51.8 percent in March (including the United Kingdom), according to the European Auto Industry Association. While some of the absent vehicles are potentially waiting on official documents to come through after lockdown measures ease, most can be explained by the general lack of demand. Everyone knew last month would be a tough one, with the nations experiencing worst outbreaks likely see the largest sales disparities.

While no country was left unscathed, Reuters reports that Italy performed quite poorly in comparison to its neighbors. As it was the first European nation to report widespread contagion of COVID-19, that’s hardly surprising, and may indicate that its neighbors are about to find themselves in a similarly undesirable situation.

From Reuters:

Sales fell in all EU markets, with Italy — hit particularly hard by the pandemic — reporting the biggest drop of 85.4 [percent], while registrations tumbled by 37.7 [percent] in Germany, 72.2 [percent] in France and 69.3 [percent] in Spain.

Volkswagen Group’s sales decreased by 43.6 [percent] in March, while Renault and PSA Group posted a drop of 63.7 [percent] and 66.9 [percent], respectively.

Sales of cars made by BMW, which was among the few automakers reporting an increase in European sales in the previous months, dropped by 39.7 [percent], while demand for rival Daimler decreased by 40.6 [percent].

While most European countries began shuttering car dealerships and assembly lines in the middle of March, Italians were already stepping up social distancing measures. Italian dealer groups began voluntarily closing shops a week or two before other markets followed suit. At the time, it was assumed March registrations in Italy could be down 85 percent if showrooms didn’t reopen — a premonition that turned out to be spot-on.

Based on contagion reports, Spain looks to be the country taking it on the chin next. Reported coronavirus cases have skyrocketed over the last couple of weeks and, like Italy, the nation has restricted testing to at-risk persons showing symptoms. The country’s Ministry of Health estimates the true number of cases are probably over 15 times higher than the official tally — and they’re already quite high. Presently, Spain is the European nation with the largest number of confirmed cases (188,068), and has a death toll (19,478) that’s probably days away from surpassing Italy.

Germany also has an exceptionally high number of cases (138,369) but its death rate is comparatively low (at just 4,105). Part of that can been attributed to the country enacting comprehensive testing procedures and having a clearer idea where its infections originated. There have also been claims that Germans were simply adhering to social distancing measures better than their neighbors — and had slightly more time to prepare.

In fact, Germany’s numbers may be more representative of what’s actually going on. As test kits are not yet broadly available in most nations, it’s assumed many are mistakenly counting any death that looks like COVID-19 as attributable to the pandemic. However, there’s no way of knowing how large the disparity actually is without more testing, and that will take weeks.

What is certain is that April’s new car registrations probably won’t look any better than they did in March. Already hamstrung by shutdowns enacted in the previous month, much of the automotive industry will remain sequestered until May. We predict European countries nearly across the board showing figures similar to what we’ve already seen in Italy. Fortunately, discussions are in the works on how to restart the global economy. Widespread shutdowns sound like they’re two weeks away from concluding (or beginning to conclude).

Climbing back out of the economic hole we’ve created is presumed to take the entirety of this year, and maybe some of 2021.

[Image: GLF Media/Shutterstock]

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  • Threeer Threeer on Apr 20, 2020

    And 9/10th of these “discussions” have what to do with the sales figures in Europe?

  • Jeff S Jeff S on Apr 20, 2020

    The new car dealers around me are doing everything they can to sell new vehicles including on line sales and no charge door to door delivery within 100 miles. Many advertise that they will pick up your vehicle and deliver it back to you for service. Dealers will be very happy to get your business and it is a good time to buy a new vehicle.

    • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Apr 20, 2020

      @Jeff S - I've been watching the local dealerships and not much is moving in their inventories. I had mentioned the local Ford dealer offering up to 18k off on 2019's. Some discounts have now crept up to 20k. They've put discounts on 2020's up to 12k. I'm inclined to wait and watch a bit longer to see what happens. I'm not in dire need of a new truck but man-oh-man, I've never seen deals this good.

  • NJRide Now more than ever, the US needs a brand selling cheaper cars. I know the old adage that a "good used car" is the best affordable transportation, but there has to be someone willing to challenge the $45k average gas crossover or $60k electric one that has priced out many working and middle class people from the market. So I think Mitsu actually may be onto something. Call me crazy but I think if they came up with a decent sedan in the Civic space but maybe for $19-20k as opposed to $25 they might get some traction there's still some people who prefer a sedan.However, I just compared a Trailblazer on Edmunds to an Outlander Sport. Virtually same size, the Trailblazer has heated seats, keyless ignition and satellite radio and better fuel economy for almost same price as the Mitsu. Plus a fresher body and a normal dealer network. This has always been the challenge off brands have had. Mitsu probably would have to come in $2-3k less than the Chevy unless they can finance more readily to the subprime crowd.
  • MaintenanceCosts At least on the US West Coast, Waze is perfectly happy to send cut-through drivers down residential streets or to disregard peak-hour turn or travel restrictions. I hope if it's going to be standard equipment the company starts taking a more responsible approach.
  • MaintenanceCosts I'm more curious about the effect (if any) on battery lifetime than range. Drawing current faster creates more heat and if that heat is not promptly drawn away it could affect life of the cells.I agree this sort of thing can make sense as a one-time option but is consumer-hostile as a subscription.
  • Ajla "The upgrade is permanent" 🤔Journos really should be calling out the automakers like Mercedes that are attempting to make this sort of thing subscription only because it obviously doesn't need to be."with a one-time price tag of $1,195"This also shows the poor consumer "value" of Mercedes wanting $1200 per year for a 60hp jump on the EQE350.
  • Dukeisduke Will the next owner have to pay up, too, like with Tesla? What's the starting price of the Polestar 2? I saw a clean used one listed locally the other day, and it was under $50k. I wasn't sure if that was a deal or not.
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