Australian new-car sales were down in April amid coronavirus lockdowns, but dealers have reported an increase in enquiries in the past week.
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EXCLUSIVE

Industry insiders have estimated new-car deliveries fell by between 40 and 60 per cent in April as the coronavirus lockdowns slammed the brakes on the market – even though all dealerships were allowed to remain open as an "essential service", and many also adopted online sales to abide by social distancing requirements.

However, the estimated April tally of between 30,000 and 45,000 vehicle sales – versus 75,500 for the same month last year – is not as bad as many were expecting, nor as dramatic as the slowdowns in most other countries, which fell by more than 80 per cent.

Furthermore, car dealers have begun reporting an upswing in sales and enquiries in the past week or so as a number of state governments prepare to lift some social restrictions.

“I think the flattening of the coronavirus infection rates, plus politicians starting to talk about lifting some restrictions in the coming weeks, has started to build confidence with some buyers,” said James Voortman, the CEO of the Australian Automotive Dealers Association. “People can see an end to this now so they have more confidence to commit to buying a new car.”

Industry insiders have since downgraded the total market's projected sales for 2020 to approximately 790,000 vehicles for the year. If that figure proves to be accurate, it will be the lowest annual new-car sales result in Australia in 19 years – since 2001, when 772,681 vehicles were reported as sold.

And it would be the first time the Australian new-car market has dipped below the 1 million mark in 11 years – since 2009, the middle of the Global Financial Crisis, when 937,328 vehicles were reported as sold.

The April 2020 and full year sales estimates for the new-car market were shared confidentially among a small group of mainstream brands who swap data at the end of each month, a few days before official figures are released.

The early estimates are used to help car companies respond quickly to the changing market conditions in the month ahead.

Exact sales figures for April 2020 compiled by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries – which can now cross-check registration data, rather than rely solely on information supplied by car companies – are due to be released early next week.

The April sales result will be the 25th month in a row of decline, however a number of major metropolitan car dealerships who CarAdvice spoke to said they were starting to "see some green shoots" in the past week.

"Look, we're not going to be back to pre-coronavirus levels anytime soon, or the see the sales records that we've had in recent years, but we are starting to see enquiries pick up, and that's a positive sign," said a veteran, multi-franchise dealer speaking to CarAdvice on condition of anonymity.

"We are getting enquiries and we are selling cars, maybe we were one of the lucky ones," he said. "It is definitely tough, but hopefully the worst is behind us."