New car sales in the United Kingdom fell 97 percent in April, according to data released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Just 4,321 cars were sold in the month, the lowest figure since 1946.
One surprising result: Tesla’s Model 3 emerged as the best-selling car in the UK for April. Tesla sold 658 Model 3s, ahead of the 367 I-Paces sold by Jaguar.
Both the Model 3 and the I-Pace are electric vehicles. One reason for strong electric car sales in April was likely the fact that the UK government just exempted electric cars from the company car tax, which applies to cars purchased by companies for their employees to use. That change went into effect on April 6, so some employers may have been waiting until that date to buy new vehicles.
Tesla also likely benefitted from its direct-to-consumer sales model. Most cars in the UK (as in the US) are sold through traditional dealerships, and auto dealerships were closed across Europe in April. But Tesla delivers its vehicles directly to customers’ homes, bypassing dealerships and reducing the risk of transmitting the coronavirus.
The pattern was the same—and equally grim—in Italy. Car sales there fell 98 percent in April compared to a year earlier. Tesla sold 58 vehicles in the country—not enough to make it the market leader but a much smaller decline than most other automakers.
US auto sales fared comparatively well—perhaps because officials here have not been as aggressive at shutting down auto dealerships. Carmakers who reported sales numbers last week said they had suffered declines of between 38 and 54 percent. GM and Ford report their sales numbers quarterly, so their April figures aren’t known.