The UK's new car market rose by 1.4% year-on-year in the month of February, a result described by the SMMT as pointing to stability after January's dip.

Some 81,969 new cars were registered on UK roads last month in what is the quietest month of the year ahead of crucial March plate change.

The SMMT said that demand for alternatively fueled vehicles continued to surge, up 34% and marking the 22nd consecutive month of growth for the segment as new and existing cutting-edge models attracted buyers into showrooms. Registrations of zero-emission electric cars enjoyed particular growth, more than doubling to 731 units, although they still accounted for less than 1% of the market (0.9%).

Meanwhile, in the four months since the October 2018 reform (incentives removed) to the Plug-in Car Grant, the market for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) has only grown by 1.7%, compared with 29.5% over the first 10 months of 2018. This suggests that removing the incentive for PHEVs is having an adverse effect, the SMMT said.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said: "It's encouraging to see market growth in February, albeit marginal, especially for electrified models. Car makers have made huge commitments to bring to market an ever-increasing range of exciting zero and ultra low emission vehicles and give buyers greater choice. These cars still only account for a fraction of the overall market, however, so if the UK is to achieve its electrification ambitions, a world-class package of incentives and infrastructure is needed. The recent removal of the plug-in car grant from plug-in hybrids was a backward step and sends entirely the wrong message. Supportive, not punitive measures are needed, else ambitions will never be realised."

The news comes as vehicle manufacturers prepare to launch some 14 all-new electric and plug-in models to a global audience at the Geneva Motor Show today. Already there are around 40 plug-in models on the market in the UK, with more than 20 more expected to arrive in showrooms in 2019.

UK car market top ten models (Jan-Feb 2019)

  1. Ford Fiesta (8,798)
  2. Ford Focus (6,934)
  3. VW Golf (6,340)
  4. Mercedes A-Class (5,827)
  5. Nissan Qashqai (5,719)
  6. VW Polo (4,475)
  7. Vauxhall Corsa (4,403)
  8. Kia Sportage (4,259)
  9. Ford Kuga (3,654)
  10. Mercedes C-Class (3,593)