June 4, 2020 / 8:19 AM / a month ago

UK car dealers suffer worst May since 1952 - SMMT

FILE PHOTO: A lorry with car carrier trailer leaves the Honda car plant in Swindon, Britain, February 18, 2019. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - British new car sales tumbled by an annual 89% in May, only slightly less negative than April’s record 97% collapse, as car dealerships remained shuttered by the government’s coronavirus lockdown, industry data showed on Thursday.

New registrations of 20,247 units represented the weakest May for sales since 1952, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

Sales were down 51.4% in the first five months of 2020 but the industry is hopeful that a re-opening of dealer showrooms in England this week will help to spur a recovery.

“Early reports suggest there is good business given the circumstances, although it is far too early to tell how demand will pan out over the coming weeks and months,” said Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive.

“Restarting this market is a crucial first step in driving the recovery of Britain’s critical car manufacturers and supply chain, and to supporting the wider economy.”

The possibility that Britain’s transition out of the European Union ends in December with no new trade deal is also likely to weigh on carmakers, some of whom have highly integrated supply chains with the continent.

Nissan’s (7201.T) car manufacturing plant in Sunderland, northern England, which employs 7,000 people, is “unsustainable” if Britain leaves the EU without a trade deal, it said on Wednesday.

Writing by William Schomberg; editing by Kate Holton

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