More than half a million vehicles were registered following the biannual number plate change on 1 March, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said. At 518,707 units, it is also the highest sales in a month since the current system for changing number plates was introduced in 1999.
North of the Border, new car registrations lifted 2.7 per cent, year-on-year, to 46,050.
Sandy Burgess, chief executive of the Scottish Motor Trade Association, said: “The rest of the UK continues to show stronger growth but as we have mentioned previously this may not all be down to sales with specific manufacturers and dealers taking tactical decisions on registrations.
“Our dealers are telling us that demand continues to be strong for the latest models supported by attractive finance packages and lower running costs.”
UK-wide, demand was up year-on-year across all fuel types, with diesel and petrol registrations growing by 4.8 per cent and 4.7 per cent respectively, while alternatively fuelled vehicles enjoyed a rise of 21.5 per cent.
Registrations by private customers rose by 3.8 per cent, with fleet demand increasing by 6 per cent.
Year-on-year Volkswagen car sales halted a five-month slide after the diesel emissions scandal.
The brand recorded 38,694 registrations in March, up very slightly on the same month in 2015. But its year-to-date sales for 2016 remain almost 5 per cent down on the same point last year.
SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “The sector’s strong growth in March rounds off a robust first quarter as British consumers continue to demonstrate their appetite for new cars, especially ultra-low emission vehicles.
“This confidence should see registrations remain at a high but broadly stable level over the year, but could be undermined by political or economic uncertainty.”
Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, described the figures as “highly welcome news” for the motor industry, but warned of “potential speed bumps”. “A potential concern for the car industry is that increasing uncertainties over the UK economic outlook… could cause fleet operators to be more cautious in their purchases,” he noted.