Cars for export are loaded onto a cargo vessel at a port in Lianyungang, China. Picture: REUTERS
Cars for export are loaded onto a cargo vessel at a port in Lianyungang, China. Picture: REUTERS

Vehicles sales have tumbled across the globe as lockdowns imposed due to Covid-19 left the international motor industry bruised and bloodied.

In March, new-car registrations dropped by 51.8% to 853,077 vehicles in the EU, Britain and the European Free Trade Association (Efta) countries, according to the European Auto Industry Association (ACEA). Sales fell in all EU markets, with Italy, which has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, reporting the biggest drop of 85.4%. Sales fell 37.7% in Germany, 72.2% in France and 69.3% in Spain. The declines come as the majority of car dealerships in Europe were closed during the second half of March in a bid to contain the pandemic.

Car sales also plunged dramatically in the US, with Volkswagen, for instance, reporting a 42% decrease and Toyota 37% down in March. Industry-wide figures are not available in the US, as a number of vehicle makers report their sales quarterly.

New-vehicles sales in China, where the coronavirus outbreak started, declined 43.3% year on year to 1.428-million units in March, after a 79% plunge the previous month, which was the steepest yearly decline on record. In Japan, which is under a “soft lockdown” that encourages but doesn’t force people to stay at home, new-vehicle sales in March were less severely affected, falling 9.3% from a year earlier.

South Korea, which never imposed a curfew or stopped its people from going to work, bucked the global trend by growing new-vehicle sales 9.5% in March 2020, compared with a decrease of 18% the previous month.

SA’s motor industry took a big hit last month, with local new-vehicle sales dropping 29.7% from a year earlier, and exports down 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. The total market for the first quarter of 2020 fell 12.8% compared with 2019, from 134,456 to 117,230.

With the lockdown now extended until the end of April, new-vehicle sales and exports could both decline more than 80% this month, says the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA (Naamsa). A Naamsa survey estimates the national lockdown could lead to job losses of up to 30% in an automotive industry that employs 468,000 people.

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