Forget about clinging to hopes that China, the world's largest car market, will recover from its unprecedented two-year slump anytime soon.

Expectations were already bleak as the year began, with IHS Markit predicting a 10 percent drop in first quarter production. Now, the influential research firm sees a scenario in which the coronavirus spreading rapidly across the country triggers a cascade of plant closings that lasts into mid-March and reduces output by more than 1.7 million cars — a decline of another 32 percent.

China's car sales already were heading for their lowest level in at least five years before the outbreak forced authorities to lock down the epicenter city of Wuhan. Now, it's unclear when consumers will come back to showrooms as 14 provinces and cities that accounted for almost 70 percent of the country's gross domestic product shut businesses and factories until at least the second week of February.