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UK car registrations plunge in March

UK car registrations plunge in March

Car registrations plunged in March, according to figures from industry body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).Preliminary data shows the UK new car market shrank by 15.6% last month compared with 2017.Demand for diesel vehicles fell 37%, but demand for petrol and alternative fuel vehicles rose 1% and 5.7%.March 2017 was a record month as customers bought new vehicles ahead of a change in Vehicle Excise Duty.The figures indicate that overall, the car market fell by 12% over the quarter.
The full data will be published later on Thursday morning by the SMMT.New car sales fell for the first time in six years in 2017, with a 5.7% decrease to about 2.5 million vehicles.Demand for diesel cars plunged by 17% last year, meaning the pace of decline for such vehicles in March has more than doubled.
Analysis: Theo Leggett, BBC business correspondent
At first glance, this looks like deeply worrying news for the automotive industry. But it it's worth remembering that in March 2017 new car registrations hit a record high. Buyers were rushing to get hold of new vehicles ahead of big changes to the vehicle excise duty regime, which sharply increased the rates payable on some cars. So a direct comparison between March 2017 and last month could be a bit misleading. But we can say with certainty that registrations have now been falling steadily for a whole calendar year. The SMMT has consistently blamed economic uncertainty, which it links to Brexit - and the collapse in diesel sales.Those factors still apply - and the latest figures show that the move away from diesel seems to have accelerated. That suggests that the industry's attempts to convince consumers and politicians that modern diesels are clean and have a future are failing badly.By historical standards new car registrations are still at pretty high levels. The steep fall in March might be a glitch. However, the overall trend cannot be ignored - and that is what the industry will be worried about. Industry expert and former SMMT chief executive Christopher McGowan said the figures were "pretty bad news".He told BBC Wake Up to Money: "The industry knew that this year was going to be down between 5-8% but if it was to continue at 15% that would be very, very serious indeed."March is always a very busy month and so to take a 15% hit when there are hundreds being retailed, that's pretty bad news in itself."He added that consumers were confused by government advice about diesel vehicles. "Consumers very often don't really know what best to do because the government frequently puts its big foot on the industry," he said."There are many, many hundreds of consumers out there who are running diesel cars, [who] would normally have thought about changing round about now but are reluctant to do so because all they hear is that if they do buy a diesel car, it's not going to be worth anything in a few months' time and so they are hanging fire."Whereas, I think that what the government wanted to say was 'go ahead and buy new diesel cars until alternative new fuels are available but in the meantime get rid of the old ones."
UK economy
Car industry
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