UK car registrations fall for 12th consecutive month as demand for diesel plummets

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The number of new cars registered in the UK dropped in March for a 12th consecutive month, according to new figures from the industry’s main trade body.

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), 474,069 new cars were registered last month, representing a 15 per cent decline compared to the same period in 2017.

The SMMT said it saw the biggest number of new car registrations ever recorded in the UK in March 2017 as customers looked to buy vehicles before changes to car tax rates, or Vehicle Excise Duty, introduced last April.

Demand for diesel cars plummeted the most, with a 37.2 per cent drop in new diesel cars compared to the same period in 2017. New registrations for petrol cars remained steady, with a rise of 0.5 per cent.

The SMMT said it was concerned by the drop in demand for diesel cars and warned that vehicle tax changes introduced by the government have not encouraged consumers to swap older diesel cars for new, lower-emission models.

Registrations by business, private and fleet buyers were down by 16.5 per cent, 15 per cent and 14.3 per cent respectively.

“March’s decline is not unexpected given the huge surge in registrations in the same month last year,” said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes.

“Despite this, the market itself is relatively high with the underlying factors in terms of consumer choice, finance availability and cost of ownership all highly competitive.”

He added that both consumer and business confidence had taken a hit in recent months and warned the government that a “thriving new car market” remained essential to the health of the UK economy.

The Ford Fiesta remained the best-selling car last month as it was in February, followed by the Volkswagen Gold and the Nissan Qashqai.

Ian Gilmartin, head of retail at Barclays, said car sellers shouldn’t feel too disheartened by the latest drop in new cars registered.

“The industry is still producing very high-quality products, with most cars, including diesel models, more environmentally friendly than ever,” he said.