LONDON — UK registrations fell by 4.4 percent in September, usually one of the top two months of the year for sales, as the coronavirus pandemic continued to affect the sector.

The monthly figure of 328,541 units was the weakest September in more than 20 years, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), said in a news release on Monday.

The decline in demand follows a 5.8 percent drop in August and appears to dash hopes for an early recovery from a coronavirus-driven slump.

The figures are especially disappointing because September is usually a key month for UK auto retailers, with a change of year on license plates spurring purchases. The decline makes for the worst September since the two-plate system was introduced in 1999, the SMMT said.

“This is not a recovery,” SMMT CEO Mike Hawes said in the release. “Unless the pandemic is controlled and economywide consumer and business confidence rebuilt, the short-term future looks very challenging indeed.”

The poor monthly performance follows very low volumes recorded in September 2018 and 2019, when regulatory changes surrounding the new WLTP emissions testing regime delayed vehicle certification and caused supply problems across Europe.

Sales to business fleets fell 5.8 percent in September while sales to private buyers declined by 1.1 percent, SMMT data showed.

Demand for full-electric vehicles increased by 184 percent to 21,903 units. Sales of plug-in hybrids grew by 3.8 percent to 12,400 vehicles.

In July, registrations brought the first monthly sales gain of the year as showrooms reopened following months of lockdown. While that provided some relief as the industry cut jobs and capacity to weather the pandemic, the latest numbers suggest it was a blip representing limited pent-up demand.

Through September, UK registrations are down 33 percent to 1.24 million vehicles.

With little prospect of recovering the 615,000 registrations lost so far in 2020, the SMMT said it expects the UK market to fall 31 percent for the full year.

The UK industry is facing more than 21 billion pounds ($27 billion) in lost revenue by the end of the year, the group said.

Reuters and Bloomberg contributed to this report

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