U.K. Car Sales Stumble Again, Erasing Hopes of Quick Recovery

(Bloomberg) — U.K. car sales fell for a second straight month, sliding 4% in the country’s weakest September for auto purchases in more than 20 years.

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Robotic arms work on the body shells of automobiles on the production line inside the Suzuki Motor Corp. plant in Esztergom, Hungary, on Monday, May 15, 2017. European car sales fell the most in four years in April as the shift of Easter from March reduced buyers’ time for shopping, while registrations in the U.K. were further sapped by tax changes.

The decline in demand, revealed Monday in preliminary data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, follows a 5.8% drop in August and appears to dash hopes for an early recovery from a coronavirus-driven slump.

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The figures are especially disappointing because September is usually a key month for U.K. auto retailers, with a change of year on license plates spurring purchases. The declines makes for the worst September since the two-plate system was introduced in 1999, the SMMT said.

Car registrations in July brought the first monthly sales gain of the year as showrooms reopened following months-long lockdowns. While that provided some relief as the industry cut jobs and capacity to weather the pandemic, the latest numbers suggest it was a blip representing limited pent-up demand.

The percentage drop was limited by sluggish sales in September 2019, with the dip stretching to 16% when compared with the 10-year average, accoding to the SMMT. The industry is facing more than 21 billion pounds ($27 billion) in lost revenue by the end of the year, the group said.

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