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Western European car sales more than halve in March over coronavirus

New car sales in Western Europe more than halved in March, U.K. consultancy LMC Automotive said April 6, as continentwide lockdowns that began during the month limited consumer spending to mainly essential items.

Sales across the region fell by a "colossal" 52.9% to 774,280 units compared with 1.64 million units in March 2019, the consultancy said.

"The spread of coronavirus COVID‐19 now dominates regional woes, with widespread government‐imposed lockdowns, and subsequent plant closures, having profound effects on both the demand and supply side of the automotive industry," LMC said in a sales update.

It maintained its forecast of a V-shaped market trend in 2020, with a sharp recovery expected from the current low base in the second half of the year, cautioning that this could be tempered by a lingering loss of consumer confidence. The possibility of further lockdowns over the course of the year could also disrupt a recovery, it warned.

READ MORE: Sign up for our weekly coronavirus newsletter here, and read our latest coverage on the crisis here.

The consultancy forecasts full-year 2020 sales in Western Europe of 11.7 million units, down from the 14.2 million to 14.3 million level where the market had hovered in the preceding three years.

Italy's market declined most sharply with lockdowns imposed there earlier than in other countries in the region, registering an 85.4% year-over-year fall in sales, trailed by a 72.2% drop in France and 69.3% in Spain. Sweden's car sales were modestly affected due to less stringent restrictions on movement, with new registrations dipping 8.6%.

Sales in Germany fell 37.7% in the month while in the U.K., where a changeover in registration plates usually spurs sales in March, sales fell 44.4% year on year.

Globally, LMC expects new car sales to fall 15% in 2020 to 76.6 million units, compared with 90.3 million in 2019.