Slump in diesel demand continues to hit United Kingdom new vehicle market

UK car sales fall in March completes full year of decline

New auto sales declined in March 2018 by 15.7 per cent, but diesel-engined sales continued to fall more steeply as buyers avoided oil-burners, preferring petrol and AFVs. Of the latter, plug-in hybrids fuelled the most growth - sales rose by 18.2 per cent. Overall the entire fleet increased by 5.7 percent on past year, although hybrids shot up by 18.2 percent.

Mike Hawes, the SMMT's Chief Executive, said that despite the decline "the market itself is relatively high with the underlying factors in terms of consumer choice, finance availability and cost of ownership all highly competitive".

"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", he said.

Sales of diesel cars have slumped in many European countries as regulators and politicians crack down on the segment with plans for bans, levies and additional taxes in many cities.

He added that uncertainty has been created around government policy regarding the use of diesel cars adds to the list of reasons consumers may be delaying their next purchase.

Customers are keeping old cars for longer and avoiding diesels

Buyers don't believe that petrol or electrified cars can deliver the performance or economy benefits they need, and so they are holding on to older vehicles for longer.

The market for alternatively fuelled vehicles has continued to grow apace, seeing a 9.8% rise compared to the same period past year - although still only making up a small proportion of the overall number of new cars on the market - 36,693 out of a total 718,489.

There were 245,446 units registered to fleet and business last month, compared to 288,618 units during March 2017, equating to a market share of nearly 52%.

Ashley Barnett, head of consultancy at Lex Autolease, said: "Even though last year's March numbers were boosted ahead of new Vehicle Excise Duty taxation changes coming into force, this is the first year-on-year decline we've seen in seven years". So it was a bit of a sales anomaly and, looked at in overall perspective, sales figures for March 2018 are still the fourth biggest on record. "The new van market is a key barometer of business confidence and while uncertainty remains, a degree of fluctuation in demand is to be expected this year".

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