It said 83,115 vehicles were registered in what is traditionally one of the quietest months of the year ahead of the number plate change in March.
Petrol registrations experienced an increase – rising 5.8% to 42,826 units – while demand for diesel cars fell 9.2% compared with the same month in 2016 to 36,981.
Buyers registered a record 3,308 alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs) in February, a 48.9% uplift on 2016, taking a 4.0% market share.
Fleets drove the market, with 45,699 cars registered, up 3.3%, while private demand fell 4.4% to 36,018 units and business registrations declined 5.3% to 1,398.
SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes 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 April 1.
Sue Robinson, director of the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA), commented: “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.
“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.”