Demand for new cars fell by around 90% last month as the coronavirus lockdown hit sales.

Only approximately 20,000 new cars were registered in May compared with more than 180,000 during the same month in 2019, according to preliminary figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

The SMMT recently forecast that around 1.68 million new cars will be registered in 2020, which would represent a 27% decline on last year.

Car showrooms across the UK were closed for the whole of May, but limited deliveries of new vehicles could take place.

They have been able to reopen in England since Monday as long as they meet the Government’s coronavirus guidelines to protect customers and workers.

Ian Plummer, commercial director at online car marketplace Auto Trader, said there is “a lot of pent up demand” from car buyers, creating a “huge opportunity for the industry to help kick-start the country’s wider economy”.

He added that retailers have worked hard to show consumers that their sites adhere to new hygiene guidelines “to instil confidence that if they turn up to a forecourt, it’s safe to do so”.

The Guardian reported on Wednesday that the SMMT has been in talks with the Government over a possible £1.5 billion scrappage scheme that would take £2,500 off the price of a new car to stimulate the market.

Andrea Lee, clean air campaigns manager for environmental lawyers ClientEarth, said taxpayers’ money should be used to help people on low incomes and small businesses switch to cleaner forms of transport.

“Subsidies that keep fossil-fuelled vehicles on the roads have no place in creating a healthier and fairer future for the UK,” she added.