New car market up 1.4% in February after five months of decline

Demand for new cars rose by 1.4% in February after five consecutive months of decline, figures show.

Some 81,969 new cars were registered last month compared with 80,805 during February 2018, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said.

February is traditionally one of the quietest months of the year for the new car market ahead of the March number plate change.

Sales of petrol models increased by 8.3% year-on-year last month, while diesels fell by 14.3%.

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.

Demand for alternatively fuelled vehicles such as hybrids and pure electrics increased by 34.0% to take a market share of 5.5%.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “It’s encouraging to see market growth in February, albeit marginal, especially for electrified models.

“Car makers have made huge commitments to bring to market an ever-increasing range of exciting zero and ultra low emission vehicles, and give buyers greater choice.

“These cars still only account for a fraction of the overall market, however, so if the UK is to achieve its electrification ambitions, a world-class package of incentives and infrastructure is needed.

“The recent removal of the plug-in car grant from plug-in hybrids was a backward step and sends entirely the wrong message.

“Supportive, not punitive, measures are needed, else ambitions will never be realised.”

Government grants for new low-emission cars were slashed in October last year, meaning hybrid models are no longer eligible for the scheme.

Motoring groups have warned that the 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.