New-car sales in China, the world's largest auto market, fell 80% in February as buyers stayed home because of the novel coronavirus, an auto industry association said on Wednesday. 

The China Passenger Car Association (CPCA) said that overall retail sales of passenger cars (cars and SUVs) fell 80% from February of 2019, to an average pace of about 7,100 vehicles a day from roughly 45,000 per day in the year-ago period. 

But, it said, the pace of sales rose steadily through the month, to about 16,000 per day in the last week from just 811 per day early in the month, as dealers gradually returned to work over the the first 3 weeks of February. 

A blue Ford Focus on a Chinese roadway.

New-car sales in China fell 80% in February, as coronavirus fears kept buyers away from showrooms. Image source: Ford Motor Company.

Showroom traffic is still very low, however, the CPCA said.  

Through the first two months of 2020, passenger car sales in China were down about 41%, the Association said, the largest sales decline in 20 years. 

The China sales decline is expected to have a heavy impact on the earnings of global automakers, including Volkswagen (VWAGY -0.58%), General Motors (GM -0.91%), Ford Motor (F -3.01%), and Toyota (TM -0.54%). 

Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler (MBGY.Y 0.85%) and rival BMW (BMWYY 0.03%) both said they expect a substantial hit to sales from the coronavirus in China. Both plan to work to recover lost volume later in the year. GM has warned that the China slump could largely offset expected profit gains from new trucks in North America.

Toyota, the first global automaker to report its China sales for the month, said that its sales fell 70% from a year ago, to 23,800 vehicles. 

The CPCA estimates that automakers' wholesale shipments of passenger vehicles fell about 86% in February.