Monthly car sales hit the highest level this century in March with nearly half a million, 492,774, cars registered.

It was the 37th month of consecutive growth for the new car market and the best month since twice-yearly number plate changes were introduced in 1999. Registrations so far this year have increased by 6.8% to 734,588.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) chief executive Mike Hawes said: “The best month this century for new car registrations is a welcome boost for the UK’s thriving automotive sector. The challenge for a new government and industry will be to maintain this momentum and to strengthen Britain’s manufacturing capabilities through continued investment, innovation and policies which maintain our global competitiveness. Whatever the general election result, the new government must keep up the commitment to the sector which is delivering at home and abroad.”

Sue Robinson, director of the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA), welcomed the new figures and said: “Consumers confidence has been rising as a result of a recovering economy. Fewer concerns about unemployment and the improvements of household finance due to record low inflation and pay rises all help to encourage consumers to buy new cars.”