UK sales of new cars fell for an eighth consecutive month in November as economic uncertainty and a sharp fall in demand for diesel cars weighed on demand.
The figures collated by industry trade group the Society of Motor Manufactures and Traders (SMMT) showed sales slumped by 11.2 per cent last month to 163,541 vehicles, putting the industry on course for the first drop in annual sales since 2011. New car sales in the first 11 months of 2017 were down by five per cent at 2.39m.
There was a 33 per cent lift in alternative fuel vehicles but that represents just 2,206 more cars.
Industry representatives said the state of the sector is now a ‘major concern’ with business and consumer confidence being ‘exacerbated’ by the government’s anti-diesel agenda.
The Budget-announced move to increase first-year tax rates for all new diesel cars from April is the latest in a line of government-backed proposals designed to scare motorists out of diesel as ministers buckle under demands to reduce air pollution in the country.
This ‘demonisation of diesel’, as the SMMT has coined it, saw 27,163 fewer diesel cars being registered last month compared to a year ago – a drop off of 30.6 per cent.
Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, questioned the government’s decision to target diesel cars and made it abundantly clear that it was having a negative impact on the nation’s motor industry.
“An eight month of decline in the new car market is a major concern, with falling business and consumer confidence is being exacerbated by ongoing anti-diesel messages from government,” he said.
“Diesel remains the right choice for many drivers, not least because of its fuel economy and lower CO2 emissions.
“The decision to tax the latest low emission diesels is a step backwards and will only discourage drivers from trading in their older, more polluting cars.
A growth in alternative fuel vehicle (AFV) sales of 33.1 per cent might have you think that diesel drivers are now switching to greener alternatives, such as hybrids, plug-in hybrids and full-electric models.
However, this 33 per cent lift represents just 2,206 more AFVs sold last month than a year ago, which is a long way from plugging the gap left by the decline in diesel.
It also means that - even despite this growth of a third - hybrid and electric cars still only make up just 5.4 per cent of new vehicles being bought.
Reacting to the SMMT's report, RACCars.co.uk spokesman Rod Dennis said: 'From an air quality perspective, these latest figures are a mixed bag. There is encouraging growth in the alternatively-fuelled vehicles sector but this still represents a fraction of overall sales.
"The decline in new diesel sales however is stark - while the modest growth in petrol sales shows that some owners may be moving from diesel to petrol, it could also be evidence that diesel drivers are choosing to hold on to their current vehicles for longer when faced with uncertainty over future diesel taxes and charges.
"We believe drivers need to be offered more incentives to switch into alternatively-fuelled vehicles to encourage swifter uptake of the very cleanest vehicles available."