Britain's new car sales crashed in April to hit the lowest level since 1946, mirroring falls across Europe, with many showrooms shut for the coronavirus lockdown, industry data showed Tuesday.

New registrations for all cars collapsed by a "precipitous" 97 percent last month on a yearly basis to just 4,321 vehicles, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said in a statement.

That was the worst performance since February 1946 and compared with 161,000 cars in the same month of 2019.

"The decline was the steepest of modern times, and is in line with similar falls across Europe, with France 88.8 percent down and the Italian market falling 97.5 percent in April," the SMMT said.

It added that car showrooms were closed for Britain's lockdown -- which was implemented nationwide on March 23 -- but some deliveries did take place for key workers and front-line public services and companies.

The car market shrank to basically nothing
The car market shrank to basically nothing AFP / GEOFF CADDICK

The group meanwhile forecast that around 1.68 million new cars will be registered in 2020, which would mark a 27-percent slump from last year.

And it called for car retailers to be in the first wave of re-openings, when the lockdown starts to be lifted, in order to kick-start economic recovery.

"With the UK's showrooms closed for the whole of April, the market's worst performance in living memory is hardly surprising," said SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes.

"These figures, however, still make for exceptionally grim reading, not least for the hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on the sector.

"A strong new car market supports a healthy economy and as Britain starts to plan for recovery, we need car retail to be in the vanguard.

"Safely restarting this most critical sector and revitalising what will, inevitably, be subdued demand will be key to unlocking manufacturing and accelerating the UK's economic regeneration."