New car registrations fell 2.5% in February to 61,868 units, with fleet and business sales accounting for 39,140 units – around 64% of the market.
Diesel car registrations rose by 4.9% in the month, which pushed their market share to 53.9%, up on 50.1% a year ago. Registrations of alternatively fuelled cars also edged upwards in February.
Meanwhile, the Ford Focus was the best-selling model in February, ending an 11-month run at the top for the Ford Fiesta.
“The February new car market was broadly in line with industry expectations with a welcome increase in private retail activity,” said Paul Everitt, SMMT chief executive.
“The March market will provide a much better indicator of industry health than the relatively low volumes traditionally seen in February.”
February typically accounts for little over 3% of annual registrations, ahead of the registration plate change in March. Some 350,000 new ‘12-plate’ cars are expected to be registered in March, 2% below the 2011 market.
Richard Lowe, head of retail and wholesale, Barclays Corporate, said: “February is always a slow month, and this year is no different. In the face of record petrol prices, consumer appetite is waning, with sales down 2.5%.
“All eyes are now on March and whether demand for the new 12-plate series will boost sales in spite of rising fuel costs. So far the signs are promising, with consumers already expected to spend £5bn on new cars in the next four weeks.”
David Raistrick, UK Manufacturing leader at Deloitte concluded: “With several new models recently launched and continued competitive pricing, March is shaping up to be a positive month.
“In the all-important fleet market, we are expecting the increases of 2011 to slow over the course of 2012 when taken as a whole.
“The year should still show slightly greater numbers of fleet sales overall, but the pent up demand for fleet replacement that we saw last year has now largely been extinguished.”