CAR sales crashed across Europe as the coronavirus pandemic hit economies across the Continent in March, according to the latest figures from global automotive data experts Jato Dynamics.
Sales in Britain slumped by 44 per cent year on year as the Euro-region overall saw a 52 per cent decline in passenger vehicle registrations as the lockdown started to bite.
It is the largest year-on-year monthly decrease since 1980, when JATO Dynamics started to collect data - surpassing even the global financial crisis in November 2008, which saw a 25 per cent decline in sales.
Italy, France and Spain - hit the hardest by the outbreak - saw sales decimated recording falls of 86, 72 and 69 per cent respectively.
Germany, a key market, fared better seeing a reduction in sales of some 38 per cent while Sweden - which has resisted most lockdown measures - saw its car market shrink by just nine per cent.
Felipe Munoz, JATO's global analyst, said: "This downward trend is not simply due to the restrictions of free movement. The industry is being impacted largely by the uncertainty for the future, and this issue started to arise even before the pandemic took hold.
"We have to remember that the industry was already operating in a challenging environment, especially towards the end of last year. The trade wars, lower economic growth and tougheremissions regulations came long before the COVID-19 crisis. And unlike previous recessions, we're not just dealing with people's fears or purchase delays. This time we have to consider that consumers are simply unable to leave their homes."
Overall, the total for the first quarter of 2020 highlights a reduction of 26 per cent compared to the first quarter of 2019 with sales decreasing to 17.42 million units.
China, Europe and the US all posted double-digit declines in March. However, Europe was hit the hardest, with the lowest number of sales for March in 38 years.
The passenger cars registrations for the 27 EU nations comprised 848,800 units, down by 52 per cent compared to March 2019. This result follows declines in January and February, taking the quarterly volume down to 3.04 million units.
Registrations of SUVs fell by 48 per cent to 338,300 units but their market share increased to almost 40 per cent.
MG, now owned by the Chinese group SAIC was the only group to post an increase in registrations, with its volume jumping from 1,327 to 2,592 units.
Some models performed better than others, said Jato. For example, volume only fell by five per cent for the Volvo XC40, which became the top-selling premium SUV in March, and the Range Rover Evoque registered 5,700 units, down by only three per cent.
Audi and Mercedes increased the registrations of the E-Tron and GLE by 86 per cent and 213 per cent respectively.
By fuel type, EVs increased their registrations by 15 per cent to 147,500 units in March, posting a new record market share of 17.4 per cent, or 10.1 percentage points higher than seen in March 2019.
Contrary to the trend in 2019, the growth was not driven by Tesla. The positive results came as a result of more electrified vehicles from Mercedes (+44 per cent), Volkswagen (+240 per cent), BMW (+15 per cent), Hyundai (+25 per cent), Volvo (+79 per cent), and Suzuki, among others.
Overall, the Continent was the second region to be severely affected by the virus, following China and Korea on the timeline. The results posted for Europe in March, were similar to those posted in February for China. However, unlike China, the recovery for Europe is likely to be U-shaped rather than V-shaped.