The new car market declined yet again in October with the number of cars registered last month falling by 2.9% compared with the results from October 2017, according to the latest Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) figures.

In total, 153,599 new cars were registered last month. The fleet sector was hardest hit, with registrations dropping by 5.2% to 79,611 units.

The SMMT blamed the drop in registrations on production backlogs caused by having to certify models to the WLTP testing regime which came into force in September.

The number of diesel vehicles registered during the month fell by 21.3% with the SMMT blaming “continuing uncertainty over Government policies” on the fuel. Based on the first 10 months of registrations this year, diesel commands a 31.8% market share, down from 42.6% a year ago.

Compared with October 2017, the number of alternatively-fuelled vehicles registered during the month increased by 30.7%. While this sounds impressive in isolation, AFVs are still a niche choice for motorists, making up just 6.9% of all cars registered last month.

True fleet registrations dropped by 4.8%

Although Government subsidises for plug-in vehicles were axed during the month prompting a surge of orders before the lower Plug-in Car Grant rates were implemented, manufacturers have nine months to deliver vehicles to meet the criteria so not all of that growth can necessarily be attributed to a wave of new car buyers taking advantage of the higher subsidy.

Mike Hawes, the SMMT’s chief executive, urged the Government to better support the car industry going forwards: “We’ve always said that world-class ambitions require world-class incentives and, even before the cuts to the grant, those ambitions were challenging,” he said. “We need policies that encourage rather than confuse. The Government’s forthcoming review of WLTP’s impact on taxation must ensure that buyers of the latest, cleanest cars are not unfairly penalised else we will see older, more polluting cars remain on the road for longer.”

Ashley Barnett, head of consultancy at Lex Autolease, added: “October’s decline is not unexpected. As it stands, company car drivers who renew now are doing so without knowing the tax consequence beyond 2021.  It is positive that more clarity will come in spring, but the uncertainty in the interim will make it difficult for drivers and fleet decision makers to commit to fleet replacements. We recommend that fleet operators consider extending existing agreements until the outcome of the WLTP consultation is known, or consider electing for an interim three-year replacement cycle. This would give them a clearer insight into the tax regulations beyond 2021 and most likely a better view of the additional zero-emission technology that will be available the next time they renew.  There may be an extra cost in the short term, but these measures would leave their fleet better placed to adopt newer, cleaner technology in 2021.”