The market for alternatively fuelled vehicles grew by 34.8 per cent last year, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has announced.
A record number of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell cars were registered – resulting in the sector’s highest-ever annual market share of 4.7 per cent.
UK consumers bought more plug-in cars than anywhere else in Europe and demand grew by a quarter in 2017 – making Britain a key market for these vehicles.
Overall, annual new car registrations fell for the first time in six years, according to the society’s figures. A 14.4 per cent decline in December marked the ninth consecutive month of negative growth, resulting in a final annual tally of 2,540,617 units, a fall of 5.7 per cent.
The most popular vehicle choices were superminis, small family cars and SUVs (dual purpose), with the latter the only segment to grow demand in 2017. In fact, one in every five new cars sold in the UK is now dual purpose, up from one in 10 five years ago.
Demand for petrol cars also rose in the year, but by a more modest 2.7 per cent. However, this was not enough to offset a 17.1 per cent decline in diesel registrations – with anti-diesel rhetoric and the potential for tax hikes causing buyers to hesitate. However, these cars can be a more environmentally friendly choice for many motorists – especially those who travel longer distances – with lower CO2, better fuel economy and, with newer vehicles, dramatically reduced harmful emissions.
Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “The decline in the new car market is concerning but it’s important to remember demand remains at historically high levels. More than 2.5 million people drove away in a new car last year, benefitting from the latest, safest, cleanest and most fuel efficient technology.
“Falling business and consumer confidence is undoubtedly taking a toll, however, and confusing anti-diesel messages have caused many to hesitate before buying a new low emission diesel car. Keeping older vehicles on the road will not only mean higher running costs but will hold back progress towards our environmental goals. Consumers should be encouraged to buy the right car for their lifestyle and driving needs irrespective of fuel type – whether that be petrol, electric, hybrid or diesel as it could save them money.
“2017 has undoubtedly been a very volatile year and the lacklustre economic growth means that we expect a further weakening in the market for 2018. The upside for consumers, however, is some very, very competitive deals.”