The Vauxhall Corsa was the most popular car in April as showrooms across England reopened in April after being shut for nearly three months, providing a “light at the end of the tunnel.”
The company, owned by Stellantis (STLA), sold nearly 4,000 Corsa vehicles in April alone.
It comes after new data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) showed Britain’s car industry is experiencing an unprecedented upward tick after the coronavirus pandemic decimated the sector.
SMMT said this was boosted by the reopening of showrooms in England as the UK economy slowly gears up for a return to normality, driven by successful inoculation programme and reducing COVID infections and deaths.
Dealers and showrooms were mostly closed during Q1 of 2021, but the roadmap out of lockdown and the reopening of non-essential retail on 12 April saw an “artificial 30-fold increase” in sales.
There were 141,583 new cars were registered in April, compared with 4,321 in the same time period a year ago, according to the SMMT. Despite the jump, sales are still down 12.9% on the 2010-2019 average.
UK car sales are still much lower than normal so far this year, with 567,108 registrations, around 32.5% down on the average recorded over the past decade. In comparison, there were 487,878 sales by the start of May 2020.
However, with optimism in the UK economy brightening up, the organisations also slightly lifted its forecast for car registrations this year, anticipating stronger demand as the economy reopens.
The SMMT raised its full-year outlook to 1.86 million new vehicles this year — up from an estimate of 1.83 million in February, and a 13.9% increase on 2020’s level.
April’s high number of car registrations “reflects people waiting until showrooms opened” in April to collect new cars ordered earlier in the year, according to Pantheon Macroeconomics.
The unusual contrast between 2020 and this year saw a substantial increase in registrations in all car segments, with non-hybridised diesel cars — considered to be less popular — recording over a 1000% due to rising demand.
Electrified powertrains saw the biggest rally, with mild hybrid (MHEV) diesel cars rising 12,300%, MHEV petrol cars soaring 17,000% and full hybrids shooting up around 24,000% year-on-year.
Meanwhile, electric cars (EVs) recorded a more subtle 556% year-on-year rise, but SMMT figures show that their market share is up 3.2% year-to-date, at 7.2%.
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Britain’s car sector has reeling from the impact of the coronavirus crisis, which hammered sectors across the board.
Sales pummelled 97% to just 4,321 vehicles in April last year, at the height of the pandemic and a month into the first national lockdown.
This was the lowest level of any month since February 1946 as factories and showrooms were shuttered.
“After one of the darkest years in automotive history, there is light at the end of the tunnel,” said SMMT boss Mike Hawes.
He added that while a “full recovery” is still “some way off”, the reopening of showrooms, consumers being able to visit dealerships and demand for driving licences can help the industry begin to rebuild.
While the industry seems to be slowly rebuilding its way up from the effects from the pandemic, this time round it faces another hurdle — the global shortage of semiconductor chips.
Car firms worldwide have been struggling with chip shortages as the COVID pandemic led to increased demand in other markets such as smartphones and other consumer electronics.
Over the weekend, Volkswagen (VOW.DE) became the latest company to warn on the impact of semiconductor chip shortages on the car industry.
The German automaker expects the global chip shortage to reduce production of vehicles in its main car brand in the coming months, but output at its electric car division is not expected to be affected.
VW joins a string of car companies that have also halted production at car factories due to the computer chip shortage.
Last week, BMW-owned Mini announced it would halt production for six days as it waits for more supplies.
Jaguar Land Rover, the UK’s largest car manufacturer, was plunged into fresh crisis as the shortage caused it to temporarily shut down production at two of its main plants.
Other carmakers have made similar moves. Last month, US car company Ford (F) announced that it will cut car production due to the global chip shortage and said profits could be hit by $1bn (£719m).
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