The UK new car market declined in 2019, with annual registrations falling for the third consecutive year, according to figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

A total of 2,311,140 units were registered last year, down 2.4% on the previous year.

There was modest growth in demand for petrol cars, up 2.2%. However, this was not enough to offset the significant 21.8% decline in diesel registrations, and December marked the 33rd month of diesel decline.

Alternatively fuelled vehicle (AFV) registrations achieved significant growth, albeit from a low base, to take a record 7.4% market share. Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) continued to dominate this sector, with registrations increasing 17.1% to 97,850 units. Battery electric vehicle (BEV) registrations experienced the biggest percentage growth, rising 144.0% to 37,850 units and overtaking plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) for the first time. Plug-in hybrids continued their fall since the government withdrew purchase incentives, and were down 17.8%.

Monthly sales figures were more positive, however, with the market up 3.4% compared with the previous December. Diesel declined by 19.0% and petrol was up 2.6%. Battery electric vehicles were up 220.7%, while PHEV registrations grew for only the fourth month this year, up 21.8%.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “A third year of decline for the UK new car market is a significant concern for industry and the wider economy. Political and economic uncertainty, and confusing messages on clean air zones have taken their toll on buyer confidence, with demand for new cars at a six-year low.

“A stalling market will hinder industry’s ability to meet stringent new CO2 targets and, importantly, undermine wider environmental goals. We urgently need more supportive policies: investment in infrastructure; broader measures to encourage uptake of the latest, low and zero emission cars; and long-term purchase incentives to put the UK at the forefront of this technological shift. Industry is playing its part with a raft of exciting new models in 2020 and compelling offers but consumers will only respond if economic confidence is strong and the technology affordable.”