New car sales fell by 3.4% in March compared to the same month of 2018, according to the latest data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
The industry body said 458,084 new vehicles were sold last month – a key selling period in Britain as it is one of only two times every year when new registration plates are released.
Demand for new cars has been waning over the past year or so, largely due to concerns over diesel engines and continuing Brexit uncertainty which has knocked consumer confidence.
Stricter emissions tests in the wake of the Volkswagen scandal have also led to supply issues.
Sales of diesel-powered vehicles fell 21.4% year-on-year, while demand for petrol cars rose by 5.1%. Registrations of new alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs) climbed by 7.6%.
“The underlying picture may well be weaker than the headline March figure suggests,” said Howard Archer, chief economic advisor to the EY Item Club.
“There are indications that March’s sales were lifted by appreciable pre-registering of vehicles before the end of March when Brexit was due to occur.
“This could well reflect an element of concern of what would happen to car prices and supplies if there was a “no deal” disruptive UK exit from the EU at the end of March or in mid-April. If this was the case, it will likely weigh down on car sales in April at least.”
Car deals edge lower
Shares in London’s car dealers were generally lower on the back of the news on Thursday morning.
Lookers PLC (LON:LOOK) fell 1.1% to 99.9p, We Buy Any Car-owner BCA Marketplace PLC (LON:BCA) dropped 0.6% to 205p, while Motorpoint Group PLC (LON:MOTR) edged 0.2% lower to 189.6p. Marshall Motor Holdings PLC (LON:MMH) also fell 0.6% to 169p.
Pendragon PLC (LON:PDG) was the only one bucking the trend, adding 1.7% to sit at 27.4p.