Car sales down by a fifth as drivers shun diesels

Sales of new cars have suffered their first September slump in six years as diesel sales fell by more than a fifth.

Just over 426,000 new cars were registered in September, down 9.3 per cent on the same month last year, according to latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

Although this marked the sixth consecutive monthly fall the SMMT said the decline last month is particularly concerning as September is seen as ‘a barometer of the health of the new car market’.

Sales of new cars have suffered their first September slump in six years as diesel sales fell by more than a fifth (File photo)

This is because it is supposed to be a bumper month in showrooms as drivers snap up the new registration plate cars.

But the main cause for the decline in new car market was diesel.

Demand for diesel cars fell for the sixth consecutive month amid health warnings and fears that councils will impose swingeing penalties on drivers to crack down on air pollution.

Almost 171,000 diesel cars were sold last month, down 21.7 per cent from just under 218,000 in September last year.

Sales of diesel cars are also down 13.7 per cent for the year so far.

In contrast, petrol models were down just 1.2 per cent last month, while sales of alternatively fuelled vehicles such as hybrids and electric cars rose 41 per cent, to 22,628.

The SMMT blamed a fall in consumer confidence caused by economic and political uncertainty, and confusion over air quality plans.

Its chief executive Mike Hawes said: “September is always a barometer of the health of the UK new car market so this decline will cause considerable concern. Business and political uncertainty is reducing buyer confidence, with consumers and businesses more likely to delay big-ticket purchases.’

He added: ‘The confusion surrounding air quality plans has not helped, but consumers should be reassured that all the new diesel and petrol models on the market will not face any bans or additional charges.’

Motor manufacturers, accusing VW, have been accused of misleading motorists about emissions – even on newer cars.

They have rushed to launch scrappage schemes offering discounts on new cars for drivers who trade in their old diesel and petrol cars.

This has helped to bolster sales.

Yesterday the SMMT claimed that if the decline in diesel sales continues at this rate the average carbon dioxide emissions from new cars could rise this year for the first time since 2000.

Even the most modern diesel engines produce more nitrogen oxides – which can cause respiratory disease – than petrol engines.

But they tend to be more fuel efficient produce less of the greenhouse gas.

The SMMT has also raised concerns about the increasing popularity of big 4×4 – or ‘dual purpose’ cars which on average emit 27 per cent more carbon dioxide than normal cars.

This was the only body type to see an increase in popularity, with sales rising 2.4 per cent to 80,558 last month.