The UK new car market declined by 4.6% in May with 183,724 units registered, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

Modest growth in registrations of petrol cars, up 1.0%, and alternatively fuelled vehicles, up 11.7%, was not enough to offset another significant decline in demand for diesel cars, which fell for the 26th consecutive month, with a decline of 18.3%.

Petrol electric hybrids experienced increased demand, up 34.6% to 7,785 units. Battery electric cars also recorded a rise of 81.1% but this segment only represents 1.1% of the overall market.

Following recent trends, plug-in hybrids experienced another substantial decline, down 40.6% in May and 25.1% year-to-date, following the removal of the purchase incentive for PHEVs. This compares with a 36.2% increase in the first five months of 2018.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “Confusing policy messages and changes to incentives continue to affect consumer and business confidence, causing drivers to keep hold of their older, more polluting vehicles for longer.

“New cars are safer, cleaner and more advanced than ever and, with sophisticated safety, efficiency and comfort features as well as a host of attractive deals on offer, there has never been a better time to invest in a new car.”

Sue Robinson, director of the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA), which represents franchised car and commercial vehicle retailers in the UK, commented: “The continued decline in new vehicle sales reflects the current political and economic environment. Consumers will continue delaying decisions on major investments such as new vehicles until we have greater clarity.

“Pleasingly, despite the decline in new vehicle sales the used car market continues to perform strongly demonstrating that the consumer still has options when it comes to purchasing vehicles. Franchised retailers continue to benefit from the growing used vehicle market and the associated aftersales segment.

“We will continue to support franchised retailers through this unprecedented period of political uncertainty and continue to call on the government to provide clarity for the UK automotive sector.”