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Car sales in Europe saw their worst drop ever last month, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

Retail deliveries across the region, which skidded 52% in March, plummeted 78% in April to a paltry 292,200 units, according to ACEA. Sales through the first four months of the year were down 39% to 3.35 million passenger vehicles, the trade group reports.

auto showroom

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Car Sales Collapse

Last month’s sales collapse was understandable. Most dealer showrooms were closed for the entire month. Besides, would-be customers were ordered to stay home in an effort to slow the pandemic.

The result in April was double-digit sales shrinkage for every country in Europe. Among the region’s largest markets, the erosion ranged from 61% for Germany to 97% or more for Italy, Spain and the U.K.

April results were dreadful for all major carmakers in Europe. Here’s some perspective: The best performer was BMW, whose group sales fell a mere 65%.

It was much worse for the market’s high-volume companies. Group volume dived for Volkswagen (-75% to 84,400 units), PSA (-82% to 38,500) and Renault (-80% to 28,600).

The calamitous decline produced some unusual, one-off sales results. Example: Daimler, Ford and Toyota each outsold Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, whose deliveries dwindled to just 11,000 cars in April.

Uncertain Forecast

The year-on-year contraction won’t be quite so bad this month, because at least some countries are allowing showrooms to reopen.

But even with the big government sales incentives carmakers want, it’s hard to imagine a stampede of buyers quite yet. Sales were already slipping in January, when ACEA’s pre-pandemic forecast predicted a 2% downturn in volume for 2020, marking the first decline in seven years.

The European car market has been in free fall since then, and May won’t bring much salvation. One thing is certain: Full year sales will be far, far below the 2% decline forecast five months ago.

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