This will be the worst year for new car sales in the UK for almost four decades as a result of the coronavirus pandemic combined with Brexit and new rules designed to favour electric vehicles.
Just 1.56m motorists bought new cars this year, according to official data.
New vehicle registrations have not been this low since 1982, when the bestselling Ford Cortina ceased production after a 20-year run. That year, just 1.55m cars rolled off dealer’s forecourts.
The figure for 2020 will likely mean an unprecedented drop of 750,000 cars compared to 2019 (unless there is an unseasonal rush in December sales, which are not finalised until early January).
However, dealers have reported showrooms are quiet with little anecdotal evidence of nervous motorists rushing to beat prices rising.
The predicted total is also far below the record 2.69m cars registered in 2016 when the British automotive sector was enjoying a renaissance with six years of accelerating sales.
Professor David Bailey, a car industry expert at Birmingham University, said: “The market has been overtrading for a few years, but this is much bigger than any expected correction.”
He said that motorists were holding off making purchases of big-ticket items such as cars not only because of economic worries caused by coronavirus and Brexit, but also because of worries about environmental regulation.
In November, the UK announced it was bringing forward the ban on the sale of cars with petrol or diesel engines to 2030, causing drivers to rethink vehicle purchases.
Some have held on to conventional cars for longer as they wait for electric vehicle prices to come down. Others fear extra taxes on purchases of new cars, which are seen as more polluting such as diesels, or fuel for them.