March, the most important month of the year for new car sales, saw sales figures crash as consumers held off due to uncertainty over the economy and government policy.
As the latest new registration was launched, sales dropped by 15.7 per cent year-on-year when compared to March 2017.
The total of registrations in March reached 474,069, down from 562,337 in the same month last year. This represented the 12th consecutive monthly drop in registrations, with year-on-year sales down 12.4pc in the first quarter.
The car industry defended the figures, stating that March registrations last year were the highest ever as motorists rushed to beat new tax rules introduced last April.
Diesel powered cars are being largely shunned now by drivers, with sales dropping by 37.2 per cent. Diesel had a 32.4 per cent market share in March, down from 43.5 per cent a year ago. The market had previously been split almost 50/50.
Car sales were down across all the three main markets of private buyers, fleet, and business.
Sales to private buyers fell by 16.5 per cent year-on-year, implying that consumers are holding off on major purchases as they wait to see what happens with the economy and interest rates.
The decline in diesel car sales has also not led to the hoped for move to petrol or alternative fuels, suggesting that consumers are keeping their cars for longer.
Worries about Brexit, inflation rising faster than wages and the Bank of England hinting it will raise interest rates are thought to be major factors causing consumers to hold back from investing in a new car.
Mike Hawes, chief executive of industry trade body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), which compiles the figures, said: ‘Consumer and business confidence has taken a knock in recent months and a thriving new car market is essential to the overall health of our economy. This means creating the right economic conditions for all types of consumers to have the confidence to buy new vehicles.’