Retail sales of passenger cars in China crumbled 92% on an annual basis in the first 16 days of February, according to China Passenger Car Association (CPCA), as the coronavirus outbreak slammed the brakes on businesses across the country.
China's passenger vehicle sales recorded 4,909 units in the first 16 days, down from 59,930 vehicles in the same period a year earlier, data from CPCA showed, the first major figures to demonstrate just how hard the epidemic is hitting the world's biggest auto market.
"Very few dealerships opened in the first weeks of February, and they have had very little customer traffic," it said.
Mainland China recorded 889 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infection on Thursday. The death toll also rose by 118 to 2,236, mostly in the Hubei provincial capital of Wuhan where the outbreak began, and which remains under virtual lockdown.
China's auto market is likely to see sales slide more than 10% in the first half of the year due to the coronavirus epidemic, and around 5% for the whole year, provided the epidemic is effectively contained before April, the country's top auto industry body, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM), told Reuters last week.
To stabilize the market, where more than 25 million vehicles were sold last year, China's commerce ministry said it will introduce more measures to boost auto consumption.
Chinese automaker Geely has launched a service for customers to buy cars online and get them delivered directly to their homes, in a bid to drum up sales as the coronavirus outbreak prompts buyers to stay away from showrooms.
Other carmakers like Tesla, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have also started to promote products heavily online in recent weeks as the health crisis escalated and authorities warned people to stay away from public places.
Consumers can order and customize their cars on Geely's website, it said in a statement. It will also offer test drives where potential consumers will be able to arrange a drive starting from their home address in coordination with local dealerships.