New car registrations fell 0.3% in February, compared to the same month last year, according to figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

In total 83,115 news cars were sold in the month. The fleet market grew 3.3% to 45,699 while the private market shrank 4.4% to 36,018 in the month.

By engine type, alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs) sales continued to grow strongly, despite the overall slowing of the market. 3,308 AFVs were sold in February, representing 4.0% of the market and a 48.9% growth compared to the same month last year.

The number of cars sold with petrol engines also increased. 42,826 petrol cars sod lint he month represented a 5.8% year-on-year growth, and 51.5% of the market.

This all came at the expense of diesel cars. The number of diesel cars sold in January plummeted 9.2% to 36,981 – or 44.5% of the market.

Sue Robinson, director of the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA), noted: “While alternative fuel vehicles continue to grow, they still represent a small portion of the market and more needs to be done to support their introduction.

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“Higher numbers of low emission vehicles on UK’s roads could bring several benefits including significant gains in air quality. The Government though must ensure that a well thought out strategy, coordinated with both manufacturer and dealers will be implemented. This should look at developing the right infrastructure and promoting incentives to support consumer confidence.

“We are now looking forward to a buoyant March with the plate change which could mark a positive finish to the first quarter.”

Brands

Growth among brands was inconsistent. Ford – the largest brand in the UK – sold 9,909 car in February, 13.9% less than the same month last year.

Volkswagen sales increased 9.4% to 7,326, helping it overtake Vauxhall – which sold 6,299 in February, down 19.9% year-on-year.

Beneath Vauxhall, BMW sold 6,119 cars (up 6.2%) and Mercedes-Benz sold 6,099 – 17.4% more than the same month last year.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said, “February is traditionally one of the quietest months of the year and a steady performance was expected following another year of record growth in 2016. We expect to see the market bounce back in March as buyers take advantage of the new ’17-plate, as well as the last chance to buy a car eligible for current lower VED rates before they change on 1 April.”