Local and export sales of new vehicles took a heavy tumble in March. Local sales fell 29.7% from a year earlier, and exports by 21.5%.

The Covid-19 lockdown directly affected only the last four selling days of March but sales damage caused by the pandemic started much earlier.

Figures released on Wednesday by the department of trade and industry show that in March, domestic new-car sales of 22,200 were 26.8% below the 30,339 of March 2019.

With light commercial sales down 37.1%, medium commercials 18.8%, heavy commercials 29.3% and extra-heavies 12.7%, the total market was 29.7% weaker than in 2019 — 33,545 compared to 47,695.

The total market for the first quarter of 2020 fell 12.8% compared to 2019, from 134,456 to 117,230.

Car sales fell 7.6%, from 87,522 to 80,895. The 21.5% drop in exports is likely to be worse in the near future now that all local production has been suspended because of Covid-19 lockdown.

More than two-thirds of SA-built cars and bakkies are sold overseas and with many markets around the world in free-fall, immediate prospects don’t look good. In March, the SA motor industry exported 28,883 vehicles, compared to 36,788 a year earlier.

For the year to date, numbers are down 12.8%, from 88,713 to 77,328.​