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The UK new car market declined by 7.3% in the first month of 2020, according to figures published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

In total, 149,279 vehicles left showrooms in January, with the SMMT blaming continued confusion surrounding diesel and clean air zones and ongoing weak consumer and business confidence for affecting demand.

Fleet registrations weathered the storm somewhat better than private sales, with the former dropping by 2.2% compared with January 2019’s figures and the latter declining by 13.9%.

Registrations of new diesel cars fell for the 34th month, by 36.0% to record the weakest performance since 2000 and just 19.8% share of the market, while petrol demand also declined, by 9.5%, the SMMT said.

True fleet registrations dropped by 4.8%

Consequently, hybrid electric cars increased by 20.6%, with 8,941 hitting British roads, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle demand more than doubled, up 111.1% to 4,788 units. Battery electric vehicle registrations, meanwhile, continued to surge, up 203.9% to 4,054 units and a 2.7% market share. Combined, alternatively fuelled vehicle registrations reached 11.9% of the market in January – the highest on record, up from 6.8% in the same month last year.

The SMMT reaffirmed that hybrids and PHEVs are “an important stepping stone in helping motorists make the switch to a zero emission vehicle” and continued to attack the Government on its plans to phase out petrol, diesel and hybrid vehicles from 2035.

“These vehicles, alongside the latest low emission petrols and diesels, have a vital role to play in the transition to zero emission transport and an outright ban will hamper innovation and hold back progress. Fleet renewal remains the quickest way to address environmental concerns and it is important that consumers feel confident in purchasing these latest technologies if we are to address environmental concerns immediately,” it said, as it called on the Government to extend the plug-in car grant beyond the current Marc end-date and reinstate support for PHEVs.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said:The new car market is a key driver of the UK’s overall economy, so another month of decline is unsettling. Consumer confidence is not returning to the market and will not be helped by government’s decision to add further confusion and instability by moving the goalposts on the end of sale of internal combustion engine cars. While ambition is understandable, as we must address climate change and air quality concerns, blanket bans do not help short-term consumer confidence. To be successful, government must lead the transition with an extensive and appropriately funded package of fiscal incentives, policies and investment to drive demand. We want to deliver air quality and environmental improvements now but need a strong market to do so.”