New car sales remained stuck in reverse gear last month prompting industry leaders to call on policies that would accelerate the take-up of the latest, cleanest vehicles.
The latest figures show that some 161,000 new cars were registered across the UK last month compared with 168,000 during April 2018 – a year-on-year drop of 4.1 per cent. It was the second worst April performance since 2012.
Sales of petrol and diesel models dropped by 3 per cent and 9.4 per cent year-on-year respectively last month, the figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reveal.
Demand for alternatively fuelled vehicles, such as hybrids and pure electrics, jumped 12.7 per cent to take a market share of 6.4 per cent.
There has been growing concern about the impact of diesel car emissions on air quality, and uncertainty about what taxes and restrictions will be introduced on the vehicles, which motorists were encouraged to buy just a few years back.
SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “While it’s great to see buyers respond to the growing range of pure electric cars on offer, they still only represent a tiny fraction of the market and are just one of a number of technologies that will help us on the road to zero.
“Industry is working hard to deliver on this shared ambition, providing ever cleaner cars to suit every need.
“We need policies that help get the latest, cleanest vehicles on the road more quickly and support market transition for all drivers.
“This includes investment in infrastructure and long-term incentives to make new technologies as affordable as possible.”
Government grants for new low-emission cars were slashed in October last year, meaning hybrid models are no longer eligible for the scheme.
Motoring groups have warned that decision will leave the UK struggling to meet targets to reduce vehicle emissions.
Alex Buttle, director of car selling comparison website Motorway.co.uk, said: “The state of market inertia continues at a time when the switchover to alternatively fuelled vehicles should be in full swing. Yet the car market has grown accustomed to disappointing growth figures in recent times, so there will not be much ‘boardroom shock’ stemming from these latest torrid numbers.
“You have to dig pretty deep to draw out anything positive from this data, although a single-digit decline in diesel sales in April suggests that segment is reaching a level of stability.”
“In light of these numbers, the government’s decision to cut hybrid and electric car grants last year when the market needed to maintain momentum, looks short-sighted and confusing.”
James Fairclough, chief executive of AA Cars, said: “Although this year’s April slowdown is ever so slight, it still underlines the challenging environment the motor industry faces today.
“While official data shows average wages are rising at a decent rate – and easily outpacing inflation – many consumers are clearly still cautious about making big-ticket purchases like cars.”
Once again, the best-selling car in the UK last month was the Ford Fiesta, with just over 5,600 of them registered.