The UK new car market declined by 7.3% in the first month of 2020, according to figures published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

Some 149,279 vehicles left showrooms in January. The SMMT said that there was continued confusion in the market surrounding diesel and clean air zones and ongoing weak consumer and business confidence continued to impact demand.

Sales to private buyers were down by a hefty 13.9%. Although fleet registrations also fell, it was a much smaller 2.2% drop.

Registrations of new diesel cars fell for the 34th month, by 36% to record the weakest performance since 2000 and just 19.8% share of the market, while petrol demand also declined, by 9.5%.

Alternatively fuelled cars, however, continued to grow in popularity. Hybrid electric cars (HEVs) increased by +20.6%, with 8,941 hitting British roads, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) demand more than doubled, up +111.1% to 4,788 units. Battery electric vehicle (BEV) registrations, meanwhile, continued to surge, up 203.9% to 4,054 units and a 2.7% market share. Combined, alternatively fuelled vehicle registrations reached 11.9% of the market in January – the highest on record, up from 6.8% in the same month last year.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said: “The new car market is a key driver of the UK’s overall economy, so another month of decline is unsettling. Consumer confidence is not returning to the market and will not be helped by government’s decision to add further confusion and instability by moving the goalposts on the end of sale of internal combustion engine cars.

“While ambition is understandable, as we must address climate change and air quality concerns, blanket bans do not help short-term consumer confidence. To be successful, government must lead the transition with an extensive and appropriately funded package of fiscal incentives, policies and investment to drive demand. We want to deliver air quality and environmental improvements now but need a strong market to do so.”

Market leader Ford took the two top spots in the model leader-board with the Fiesta and Focus.