United Kingdom auto registrations drop 15 per cent in March

The SMMT said economic and political uncertainty and confusion over air quality plans continued to affect confidence, resulting in declines across all sales types.

Published by the Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the figures cover the first three months of the year (January to March 2018) and suggest that sales of new diesels have fallen by around 33.3%, down to 240,614 compared to the first quarter in 2017.

"The decline in demand for diesel cars continues to be of concern and the latest tax changes announced by the government do nothing to encourage consumers to exchange their older diesel vehicles for new lower emission models", it said. Registrations of petrol cars rose by nearly 1 per cent, while demand for alternatively fuelled vehicles such as hybrids and pure electrics increased by around 5.7 per cent. Overall the entire fleet increased by 5.7 percent on past year, although hybrids shot up by 18.2 percent.

"Whereas, I think that what the government wanted to say was "go ahead and buy new diesel cars until alternative new fuels are available but in the meantime get rid of the old ones".

The SMMT argues that the utilising all fuel types can help reduce air pollution with the real target being consumers who hold on to older, more polluting vehicles.

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the SMMT, said: "March's decline is not unexpected, given the huge surge in registrations in the same month a year ago". This means creating the right economic conditions for all types of consumers to have the confidence to buy new vehicles.

James Hind, CEO of vehicle buying site carwow, also believes confusion over the long-term future of diesel reigns supreme in the minds of would-be auto buyers.

Consumers continued to ditch diesel cars last month for automobiles that are regarded as more environmentally-friendly.

March is generally the top-selling month of the year as it is one of only two months when new licence plates are issued.

Despite the drop, though, the SMMT said registrations were still at a "historically high level" and noted that March was still the fourth biggest month on record.

Diesel vehicles are known to emit lower levels of Carbon dioxide than petrol vehicles, thus helping to reduce the impact of transport on climate change, and have therefore enjoyed favourable taxation rates compared to petrol cars.

The UK government announced previous year it wanted to ban sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

  • Eleanor Harrison