The UK’s new car market grew by 8.4% in March, making it the biggest month since records began, according to SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) figures.

The record performance came as buyers seized the chance to buy cars before the new vehicle excise duty (VED) rates came into force. From 1 April, under the new system all new cars, except for those with zero emissions, are subject to an annual flat rate charge.

A total of 562,337 new cars were registered in March, more than double the number in the first two months of the year combined.

A new record was also set for the quarter, with 820,016 new cars sold, up 6.2% on the same period in 2016.

Sales of diesel cars also broke the record for a single month, despite negative publicity for diesel vehicles, with sales of 244,263, up 1.6% on the same month last year, but market share was down at 43.4%.

Petrol car sales were up 13.2% compared with the same month in 2016, at 295,256, and achieved a market share of 52.5%. Alternatively fuelled cars also saw an upsurge in sales, up 31% on a year ago, but market share was only 4.1%.

Fleets and businesses were the big contributors to market growth in March, with registrations up 12.6% and 11.9% respectively, though demand from private buyers also grew, with registrations climbing 4.4% to reverse the decline in demand seen during the previous month.

SMMT chief executive, said: “These record figures are undoubtedly boosted by consumers and businesses reacting to new VED changes, pulling forward purchases into March, especially those ultra-low emission vehicles that will no longer benefit from a zero-rate fee.

“This bumper performance probably means we will see a slowdown in April, exacerbated by the fact there are fewer selling days this year given Easter timing. Looking ahead to the rest of the year, we still expect the market to cool only slightly given broader political uncertainties as there are still attractive deals on offer.”

Sue Robinson, director of the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA), commented: “The positive momentum seen in the alternative fuel segment is encouraging, but the Government should continue to actively support consumers who are willing to switch to greener cars. The small growth of diesel in March shows that there still appears to be a market for cleaner and modern diesel vehicles in the UK.”