New car sales in the UK increased for the first time in a year in April, but demand for diesel models continues to be in freefall.
The sale of 168,000 cars across the month, a 10% rise on March, was helped in part by the cold weather in the previous reporting period pushing deliveries into April, and by Easter giving dealers two extra days to sell, the industry said.
Drivers are still turning away from diesel cars, which face the looming threat of city pollution charges across Europe. Diesel sales fell by a quarter, to 51,377.
New car sales rose in April 2018, but diesel’s decline continues
Hybrid and plug-in cars
Guardian Graphic | Source: SMMT
The market share for diesels, which have been blamed for illegal levels of nitrogen oxides across the UK, has shrunk from 45% in 2017 to 30% in 2018 so far.
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The appetite for electric, hybrid and plug-in cars is booming, with sales up by half to 9,365, according to figures from the industry body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
Mike Hawes, the chief executive of the SMMT, cautioned against looking at one month in isolation, saying that while increasing demand for greener cars was welcome, their numbers were fairly small and would “do little to offset damaging declines”, in an apparent reference to diesel vehicles.
The ostensibly positive results for the month are also flattered by the fact that in April 2017 sales were relatively low because of changes to vehicle excise duty.
Ian Gilmartin, an analyst at Barclays, said: “With the exception of last year, it is still the weakest April since 2013 but after a full year of declines, the industry will cheer a sales increase in whatever way it’s achieved.”
SMMT called the results strong and said it expected the market to continue gradually recovering this year.
Prof David Bailey, an automotive industry expert at Aston University, said he still expected sales for the year to be down 5% to 10% on 2017.
“The trend is still clear, that sales for the first part of this year are looking down and the trend away from diesel is still pronounced,” he said.