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European sales had worst year in decades in 2020

Europe’s top auto markets posted their biggest annual sales declines in decades, with ongoing coronavirus restrictions expected to crimp a recovery early this year.

Registrations fell by about 25 percent last year across Germany, the UK, France, Italy and Spain, Europe’s five largest car-buying countries, according to industry associations and transport ministries.

The resurgence of COVID-19 led several governments to re-implement lockdown measures that are likely to drag on demand into early 2021.

Germany’s new-car registrations fell 19 percent in 2020, according to the KBA transport authority.

Sales plunged 32 percent in Spain, 29 percent in the UK, 28 percent in Italy and 25 percent in France.

The UK auto industry’s trade group, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), said the country’s decline was the worst since 1943.

The data show the outsize impact the coronavirus had on Europe’s car industry last year relative to China and the U.S., where car-buying was more resilient.

Ongoing weakness in demand poses a risk to the euro-area economy, which relied heavily on the manufacturing sector in staging a recovery in the second half of last year.

“We are in a deep crisis,” Pierre-Louis Debar, head of statistics for French car-industry group CCFA, said in an interview. “It’s more extensive than anything we have seen in the past.”

Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Mike Dean said the European auto market could pick up in the second quarter if governments lift lockdowns. Still, Bloomberg anticipates sales to finish 2021 down about 15 percent from 2019.

“The first quarter of 2021 will be difficult,” Dean said.

Electric vehicles have been a bright spot within the region’s malaise, with Bloomberg estimating that hybrid, plug-in hybrid and full-electric vehicles exceeded sales of diesel cars last quarter for the first time.

Germany’s KBA on Wednesday said sales of purely electric cars rose more than 200 percent for the year, with Volkswagen Group seizing a 17 percent share of the segment, followed by Mercedes-Benz at 15 percent.

In France, full-electric cars accounted for 6.7 percent of total sales over the year, compared with 1.9 percent in 2019.

The Renault Zoe was the top-selling EV in France with 37,409 units sold, well ahead of the 6,477 Tesla Model 3s and 4,187 Volkswagen ID3s registered in the country.