The number of car sales continued its upward climb in May with a 2.5% growth in registrations, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

It said 203,585 cars were registered in the month, May’s highest total since 2002.

Following the trend set in the previous two months, fleet registrations drove the growth, with an 8.8% rise, counterbalancing a 3.0% fall in registrations to private customers.

Demand for diesel cars grew 5.0%, outstripping that for petrol models, which saw a marginal decline of -0.6%. Uptake of alternatively fuelled cars was up by 12.1%.

SMMT said May demonstrated a continuation of the easing of growth, being the second consecutive month of sub-3% growth in registrations – evidence of increasing market stability following a record 2015.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “The new car market in May remained high with compelling offers available on the latest vehicles, but the low growth is further evidence of the market cooling in the face of concerns around economic and political stability. Whether this is the result of some buyers holding off until the current uncertainty is resolved or a sign of a more stable market for new cars remains to be seen.”

Sue Robinson, director of the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA) which represents franchised car and commercial vehicle retailers across the UK, said: “We are pleased to see that although retailers from various sectors forecasted a modest slowdown in sales in May, new car sales continued to perform well.

“These results are in line with recent predictions that new cars sales will grow by 200,000 units in 2016 to a total of 2.8 - 2.9 million of vehicles, which would surpass last year’s record of 2.6 million.

“Despite less stable economic conditions and short-term uncertainty ahead of the EU referendum, the car market has continued its upward trend and is set to remain strong this year.”