The UK new car market continued the recovery that started in April with modest growth of 3.4% in May, with 192,649 new units registered, according to figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

Sales of diesel engine cars fell for the 14th consecutive month, down 23.6%, but this was more than offset by 23.5% growth in petrol cars and strong growth in the alternatively fuelled vehicle segment.

Demand for hybrid and plug-in cars grew by 36.1% to 11,240 units, accounting for a record 5.8% of the market. Plug-in hybrid cars were the biggest driver of growth, up 72.7%, while hybrids rose 22.6% and zero-emission battery electrics grew 18.7%.

In the year to date, the overall market remains down, with new registrations having fallen 6.8%. Business and fleet sales are down 16.2% and 7.1% respectively, while demand from private buyers in the first five months is 5.7% behind 2017 levels.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “May’s growth, albeit on the back of large declines last year, is encouraging and suggests the market is now starting to return to a more natural running rate. To ensure long-term stability, we need to avoid any further disruption to the market, and this will require sustainable policies that give consumers and businesses the confidence to invest in the new cars that best suit their needs.

“Fleet renewal is the fastest way to improve air quality and reduce CO2, and this applies to hybrid and plug-in technologies as well as the latest low emission petrol and diesels which, for many drivers, remain the right choice economically and environmentally.”

Sue Robinson, director of the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA), which represents franchised car and commercial vehicle retailers in the UK, said: “We are encouraged by the second consecutive month of growth for the new car market but it is important to remember that we are comparing these figures with a weak May last year which was affected by a number of external factors including the General Election and April’s VED changes.

“The sustained performance of AFVs, up 36.1% in May, presents an opportunity for franchised dealers to be leaders in this growing segment of the market.

“Going forward, although the market is expected to remain at high levels, we need to be aware of the forthcoming WLTP test coming into effect in September and we are currently working to improve industry understanding of the regulation.”

The Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) will apply to all new car registrations from September 2018, replacing the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC).