The UK new car market declined in March, according to figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), with registrations falling 15.7% compared with the same month last year. March 2017 was the biggest month ever for new car registrations, as buyers seized the chance to purchase cars before new Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) rates came into force in April last year. However, registrations are still running at a historically high level and last month’s market was the fourth biggest March on record.

Economic and political uncertainty and confusion over air quality plans continued to affect confidence, resulting in declines across all sales types. Demand from business, fleet and private buyers all fell in March, down 14.3%, 15.0% and 16.5% respectively. Continuing the recent trend, diesel registrations declined in March, down 37.2%.

New car registrations have fallen for the 12th consecutive month, with year-to-date performance down -12.4%. However, nearly 720,000 new high-tech, low-emission cars left forecourts in the first quarter of 2018 as consumers took advantage of competitive offers, meaning last month’s market was still the fourth biggest on record.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said “March’s decline is not unexpected given the huge surge in registrations in the same month last year. 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. Consumer and business confidence, however, has taken a knock in recent months and a thriving new car market is essential to the overall health of our economy.”

“This means creating the right economic conditions for all types of consumers to have the confidence to buy new vehicles. All technologies, regardless of fuel type, have a role to play in helping improve air quality whilst meeting our climate change targets, so government must do more to encourage consumers to buy new vehicles rather than hang onto their older, more polluting vehicles.”