BRUSSELS—The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked the biggest decline in car production in Europe on record, according to data published last week by the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACAE). The ACAE says new car registrations across the European Union fell by 23.7 percent in 2020, the biggest year-on-year decline since the organization began collecting data.

Three million fewer cars rolled off lots last year when compared to 2019, with just 9.9 million registrations last year across the 27-country bloc. The ACAE blamed the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted car assembly lines and dented demand.

“Containment measures–including full-scale lockdowns and other restrictions throughout the year – had an unprecedented impact on car sales across the European Union,” ACAE said.

Spain suffered the biggest slump across the EU, with new car registrations falling by a third. Italy and France saw registrations fall by around a quarter.
Losses were uneven across 2020 and, unsurprisingly, the biggest fall in registration came in the teeth of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Registrations dropped by 76.3 percent across the EU in April last year, a month when most countries were in lockdown.

The car market has been recovering since its low point in the spring and ACEA said car sales were down just 3.3 percent in December. The headline figure masked contrasting fortunes in local markets—sales were down more than 10 percent in France and Italy, but rose 9.9 percent in Germany.

Europe’s car industry represents 7 percent of EU GDP and employs almost 15 million people both directly and indirectly, according to ACEA.