The new car market rose 8.4% year-on-year in March to a record of 562,337 registrations, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

The sales record has been attributed to drivers seeking to avoid the rise in Vehicle Excise Duty (VED), which came into effect on April 1, which will charge all non-zero emissions cars registered after the date an initial flat rate of £140.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “These record figures are undoubtedly boosted by consumers and businesses reacting to new VED changes, pulling forward purchases into March, especially those ultra-low emission vehicles that will no longer benefit from a zero-rate fee.”

The measures have received widespread concern from the car industry, over fears that they will harm the market and the environment.

March’s figures more than doubled the combined total of sales in January and February this year, and the quarter’s sales rose 6.2% year-on-year to 820,016 registrations, reaching a record.

Registrations of alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs) rose 31%, while petrol cars sold 13.2% more. Diesel sales rose by just 1.6% to 244,263, though reached a record for largest ever sold in a single month.

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Sue Robinson, director of the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA), called on the government to encourage consumers to purchase low emissions vehicles.

She said: “The positive momentum seen in the alternative fuel segment is encouraging, but the government should continue to actively support consumers who are willing to switch to greener cars.”

Demand from fleets and businesses rose 12.6% and 11.9% respectively, while private new car registrations grew 4.4%.

Julian Rance, director, Paragon Car Finance said: “The bulk of growth, 12.6%, has come from increased fleet registrations, compared to 4.4% growth in private registrations.

This would indicate that much of the increase in registrations has been driven by increased flows of pre-registration vehicles from manufacturers. Manufactures have been keen to boost March sales and counteract some of the negative impact on sales created by a weak pound.”

Hawes expected to see a slowdown in registrations in April, and over the rest of the year due to global economic factors.
He added: “This bumper performance probably means we will see a slowdown in April, exacerbated by the fact there are fewer selling days this year given Easter timing.

“Looking ahead to the rest of the year, we still expect the market to cool only slightly given broader political uncertainties as there are still attractive deals on offer.”