Demand for alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs) continued to accelerate in September, up 41% in the month and 34.6% year-to-date, with nearly 95,000 leaving forecourts this year.
However, this couldn’t compensate for declines in registrations of petrol cars, down by 1.2%, and, especially, diesel which fell for the sixth consecutive month, down by 21.7%, according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
Confusion surrounding air quality plans has inevitably led to a drop in consumer and business demand for diesel vehicles, which is undermining the roll out of the latest low emissions models and thwarting the ambitions of both industry and government to meet challenging CO2 targets, says the SMMT.
Indeed, if new diesel registrations continue on this negative trend, UK average new car CO2 levels could actually rise this year, the first time such an increase would have occurred since average CO2 emissions were recorded.
So far this year 485,067 diesel vehicles have been produced in the UK, and maintaining strong demand for the latest new diesel vehicles is essential for the health of the UK automotive sector that employs over 814,000 people.
Overall, the UK new car market declined for a sixth consecutive month in September, with 426,170 new units registered.
Fleet and business registrations fell by 9.5%, with 222,115 units registered in the month compared to 245,919 cars in September 2016.
However, year-to-date fleet and business registrations are only down by around 2%, with 1,143,428 units registered in the first nine months of 2017, compared to 1,167,722 units for the same period last year.
Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “September is always a barometer of the health of the UK new car market so this decline will cause considerable concern.
“Business and political uncertainty is reducing buyer confidence, with consumers and businesses more likely to delay big ticket purchases.
“The confusion surrounding air quality plans has not helped, but consumers should be reassured that all the new diesel and petrol models on the market will not face any bans or additional charges.
“Manufacturers’ scrappage schemes are proving popular and such schemes are to be encouraged given fleet renewal is the best way to address environmental issues in our towns and cities.”
Chris Bosworth, director of strategy at Close Brothers Motor Finance, said: “The past six months has been a turbulent time for the motor industry with France, quickly followed by the UK, banning the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040. This is one of the most radical Government policies affecting the automotive sector in recent memory, and the shake up is having an effect.
"Buying behaviour towards fossil fuel cars is changing as motorists lean towards leasing deals rather than purchasing the vehicle outright.”