The year was 1959 and British motorists were puttering around London and the winding roads of the Yorkshire Dales behind the wheel the likes of the original Mini, the Ford Anglia, Triumph Herald and the Datsun Bluebird.
Why am I telling you this in 2021? Because the last time car sales in Britain were as low as they are now was way back in 1959 – 62 years ago.
Figures released this week by the UK’s Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) for the month of February 2021 show new car registrations are at a remarkably low ebb, notwithstanding the fact that February is traditionally a slow month because buyers hold out for the number plate change that happens in March.
Registrations down by 35.5% year-on-year
The ongoing restrictions on the car retail sector due to the pandemic, as well as an economy struggling under the twin weights of Brexit and lockdowns, have combined to drive February sales down to only 51,412 new cars registered nationwide during the month. This is a significant a 35.5% year-on-year decline.
Registrations in February weakened across both the private and fleet sectors, by 37.3% and 33.5%, respectively. Business sales, which are traditionally much lower anyway, dropped by 56.6% to just 637.
These figures emphasise the difficulties being faced by the UK economy and the unwillingness of private consumers and businesses to spend on anything other than necessities.
Decline is deeply disappointing but expected
“February is traditionally a small month for car registrations, and with showrooms closed for the duration, the decline is deeply disappointing but expected,” said SMMT’s Chief Executive, Mike Hawes.
“More concerning, however, is that these closures have stifled dealers’ preparations for March, with the expectation that this will now be a third successive dismal new plate month,” he added.
“Although we have a pathway out of restrictions with rapid vaccine rollout and proven experience in operating click-and-collect [sales], it’s essential that showrooms reopen as soon as possible so the industry can start to build back better and recover the £23-billion (AUD41.4-billion) loss from the past year.”