The UK new car market declined by 4.6% in May with 183,724 units registered, according to figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). The fall reflects continued uncertainty over diesel and clean air zones as well as the removal of incentives for plug-in hybrid vehicles.

The SMMT also said that the underlying economic and political instability continues to affect consumer and business confidence.

Declines were recorded across all sales types in the month, with registrations by private consumers, fleets and business buyers declining by 5.0%, 3.0% and 29.0% respectively. Most vehicle segments experienced a fall in demand, however, executive and dual purpose vehicles bucked the trend, with registrations growing 9.1% and 16.0%. While demand for superminis and small family cars fell, these vehicles remain the most popular taking a combined 56.3% of the market.

Modest growth in registrations of petrol (1.0%) and alternatively fuelled vehicles (11.7%) was not enough to offset the significant decline in demand for diesels, which fell for the 26th consecutive month. Ongoing anti-diesel sentiment and the forthcoming introduction of low emission zones continues to affect buyer confidence, the SMMT said. The trade body also noted that thanks to significant industry investment in new technology, the latest diesels are safer and cleaner than ever before and will not face charges or restrictions anywhere in the UK.

Meanwhile, petrol electric hybrids experienced increased demand, up 34.6% to 7,785 units. Battery electric cars also recorded a significant rise of 81.1% yet this segment still only represents 1.1% of the overall market. However, following recent trends, plug-in hybrids experienced another substantial decline, down 40.6% in May and 25.1% year-to-date. This compares with a 36.2% increase in the first five months of 2018 and is further evidence of the removal of the purchase incentive for PHEVs.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said: “Confusing policy messages and changes to incentives continue to affect consumer and business confidence, causing drivers to keep hold of their older, more polluting vehicles for longer. New cars are safer, cleaner and more advanced than ever and, with sophisticated safety, efficiency and comfort features as well as a host of attractive deals on offer, there has never been a better time to invest in a new car.”

Top selling models Jan-May, 2019

  • Ford Fiesta (35,790)
  • Ford Focus (26,789)
  • VW Golf (26,020)
  • Vauxhall Corsa (24,368)
  • Mercedes A-Class (23,951)
  • Nissan Qashqai (23,847)
  • VW Polo (19,013)
  • Ford Kuga (16,724)
  • Kia Sportage (15,893)
  • MINI (15,502)