Demand for new cars fell by a “disappointing” 5.8% last month, industry data shows.
Some 87,226 new cars were registered in the UK in August compared with 92,573 during the same month in 2019, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
Sales of battery electric and plug-in hybrid cars bucked the trend with rises of 77.6% and 221.1% respectively.
Overall registrations during the first eight months of the year are down 39.7% compared with the same period in 2019.
SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “The decline is disappointing, following some brief optimism in July.
“However, given August is typically one the new car market’s quietest months, it’s important not to draw too many conclusions from these figures alone.
“With the all-important plate change month just around the corner, September is likely to provide a better barometer. As the nation takes steps to return to normality, protecting consumer confidence will be critical to driving a recovery.”
The automotive industry has been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with year-on-year demand down 97.3% in April, 89.0% in May and 34.9% in June.
July saw an 11.3% increase, which was attributed to pent-up demand and special offers.
James Fairclough, chief executive of AA Cars, said: “July’s year-on-year increase in sales gave the industry a welcome shot of optimism, so it is disappointing that the upward trend didn’t continue into August.
“However, this drop in registrations shouldn’t cause too much alarm as September is traditionally one of the busiest in the calendar – with the market given a boost as new registration plates are introduced and dealers work hard to hit quarterly targets.
“September’s figures will give a more complete picture of how the new car market performed in the third quarter of the year, and may provide an insight into what we can expect for the remainder of 2020 too.”
James Baggott, founder of Car Dealer Magazine, said: “The August new car sales figures might look disappointing to some but remember they are compared to what was an inflated month last year.
“In August 2019 many dealers were forced to register cars to avoid incoming emissions regulations, so it’s a somewhat unfair comparison.
“Dealers I have been speaking to are taking August as a win as many hit their targets and it is traditionally the quietest month of the year. What’s more, September 70-plate sales seem to be booming and could be the biggest ever month of registrations.”