Demand for new cars hit the skids last month as confusion over diesel and ongoing economic jitters and political ‘uncertainty’ took their toll, new figures show.
Around 458,000 new cars were registered last month, marking a fall of 3.4 per cent from the 474,000 seen a year ago, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said.
The Ford Fiesta was the most popular car last month, followed by the Vauxhall Corsa and the VW Golf. All three models have been the most popular with buyers for the last year.
Cars by numbers: New car registrations came in at 458,054 last month, SMMT figures show
March is generally a crucial month for the car industry, as the number plate change traditionally brings buyers flocking to showrooms.
Sales of petrol models increased by 5.1 per cent year-on-year last month, while diesels fell by 21.4 per cent.
There has been growing concern about the impact of diesel car emissions on air quality, and uncertainty about what taxes and restrictions will be introduced on the vehicles in future.
Demand for alternatively fuelled vehicles such as hybrids and pure electrics increased by 7.6 per cent to take a market share of 5.5 per cent.
Government grants for new low-emission cars were slashed in October, meaning hybrid models are no longer eligible for the scheme.
Motoring groups have warned that decision will leave the UK struggling to meet targets to reduce vehicle emissions.
The Department for Transport has announced a plan to ban new diesel and petrol cars and vans in the UK from 2040 in a bid to tackle air pollution.
SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: ‘March is a key barometer for the new car market, so this fall is of clear concern’
Private and business registrations fell by 2.8 per cent and 44.8 per cent respectively last month, while fleet sales rose by 0.3 per cent.
SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: ‘March is a key barometer for the new car market, so this fall is of clear concern.
‘While manufacturers continue to invest in exciting models and cutting-edge tech, for the UK to reap the full benefits of these advances we need a strong market that encourages the adoption of new technology.
‘That means supportive policies, not least on vehicle taxation and incentives, to give buyers the confidence to invest in the new car that best meets their driving needs.
‘Above all, we urgently need an end to the political and economic uncertainty by removing permanently the threat of a no-deal Brexit and agreeing a future relationship that avoids any additional friction that would increase costs and hence prices.’
Concerns: There has been growing concern about the impact of diesel car emissions on air quality
James Fairclough, chief executive of AA Cars, said: ‘March typically sees buyers rushing to dealerships to snag themselves cars with the latest plates so these subdued figures are somewhat surprising.
‘The stark truth is that the uncertainty in Westminster continues to set the tone for consumer confidence across the country – and with little clarity on what’s happening over the next couple of weeks, buyers are being decidedly cautious in paying for big ticket items.
‘As expected though, low emission vehicles continue to buck this downwards trend and enjoyed a 7.6% uptick compared to the same time last year.
‘In order to maintain this upward trend, we need to make sure this segment benefits from the right combination of incentives and tax breaks for buyers.’
Alex Buttle, director of Motorway.co.uk, said: ‘Continued uncertainty around our future relationship with the EU is hampering any chance of a turnaround in fortunes in the short-term, with consumers reluctant to commit to major financial outlays, particuarly big ticket items such as new cars.
‘At least, the odds of the UK leaving the EU without a deal appears to be diminishing, which will provide some level of clarity. But the longer negotiations drag on, the more damaging it will be for the industry, not just in terms of actual sales but also our global reputation as an auto manufacturing force.
‘There needs to be a resolution, one way or another, so everyone can move on and the car industry can adjust to a post-Brexit Britain landscape.
Popular: The Ford Fiesta was the most popular new car for buyers last month and in the last year
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