New car sales for March were 26.6% up on the same period last year, at 397,383 registrations, according to the latest figures from the Society of Motor

Manufacturers and Traders.

The effect of the Scrappage Incentive Scheme (which closed at the end of March) accounted for 12.2% of registrations, with private buyers leading the growth, but with demand from fleet and business also improving.

"The UK motor industry has enjoyed a better-than-anticipated first quarter of 2010," said Paul Everitt, SMMT chief executive. "A strong March performance was underpinned by the scrappage incentive and improving demand from the fleet sector. The coming months will remain challenging and headline registration numbers are expected to dip, but underlying demand will continue to improve slowly."

The new car market has maintained strong growth in each of the past nine months, following the introduction of the Scrappage Incentive Scheme. Volumes in March jumped 83,471 from the low of last year. March is typically the largest-volume month of the year, averaging 418,404 registrations and accounting for 17.8% of the annual market since 1999 (when the twice yearly plate change started).