New car registrations increased by 11.5% in March according to figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Sales to private individuals fell 4.1% with ‘click and collect’ hampering sales rate. Fleet and business registrations more than made up for that shortfall, increasing 28.7% and 16.6% respectively, with physical transactions less common in these sales channels, so the lockdown restrictions had less impact.
Although an 11.5% increase to 283,964 registrations is a positive result in the current climate, it is significantly below 2019’s registration tally of 458,054, and for context, 2019’s total was the lowest for five years.
There was a marked improvement in wholesale trading conditions in the latter half of March, as dealers began filling gaps on forecourts in preparation for the reopening of sites to physical customers on 12 April. Overall conversion rates returned towards seasonal norms and hammer prices began rising. The percentage of cars selling on the first time of asking was 82.7% which is up 6.2 percentage points from February but still over 6 points behind March last year.
Glass’s expects a very buoyant period of retail activity from 12 April, with wholesale trading following a similar pattern as dealers replenish stock more regularly. Somewhat unexpectedly, one of the national auction groups has announced the return of some physical auctions from 12 April, with buyers welcomed back into auction halls, but adhering to social distancing measures. It will be interesting to see how the other national auction companies respond or whether they will remain on their current course of online-only sales programs.