Diesel car sales declined by a quarter and pushed the overall new car market down despite growth by petrol and alternatively fuelled cars in January.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reported that 163,615 new cars were driven off forecourts in January, a 6.3% fall compared with the same month in 2017.

Registrations of petrol and alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs) increased, up 8.5% and 23.9% respectively. However, this growth failed to offset the decline in demand for new diesel cars, which fell 25.6% as consumers reacted to negative publicity.

Market share for diesel cars fell from 45.2% in January 2017 to 35.9% for the same month this year, while petrol cars increased from 50.6% to 58.6% and AFVs rose from 4.2% to 5.5%.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “The ongoing and substantial decline in new diesel car registrations is concerning, particularly since the evidence indicates consumers and businesses are not switching into alternative technologies, but keeping their older cars running.

“Given fleet renewal is the fastest way to improve air quality and reduce CO2, we need government policy to encourage take up of the latest advanced low emission diesels as, for many drivers, they remain the right choice economically and environmentally.”

Ford vehicles accounted for three of the top 10 selling models with sales of the number one, Ford Fiesta, selling nearly twice as many as its nearest rival Volkswagen Golf (8,335 versus 4,310).