Sales of new cars in the UK continued their downward trend in January, with falls in diesel car sales continuing to outweigh higher sales of petrol cars and alternatively fuelled vehicles.

The overall market was down 1.6% in January, according to figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), with 161,013 new cars registered.

Petrol car sales were up 7.3% on the same month last year to 103,176, which represents a 64.1% market share. Diesel car sales fell 20.3% to 46,823, taking market share to 29.1%.

Alternatively fuelled vehicles sales grew 26.3% to 11,014, resulting in a 6.8% market share.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “It’s encouraging to see car registrations in January broadly on par with a year ago as the latest high tech models and deals attracted buyers into showrooms. This, however, is still the fifth consecutive month of overall decline in the market.

“To restore momentum, we need supportive policies, not least on vehicle taxation, to encourage buyers to invest in new, cleaner vehicles that best suit their driving needs – from the latest petrols and diesels to an ever-growing range of exciting electrified vehicles. This would be good for the environment and good for the industry and those who depend on it.”

Sue Robinson, director of the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA), which represents franchised car and commercial vehicle retailers in the UK, said: “Sales of alternative fuel vehicles grew substantially in January and we expect the sector to perform well throughout 2019 as new models enter the market and the current ones become more affordable.

“It is encouraging to see that demand from private consumers grew by 2.9%. With different types of vehicles coming to the market and new emission figures available, retailers have an important role to play in informing consumers and helping them choose the right car.

“The retail automotive industry is flexible and resilient, but we urge the Government to provide clarity to businesses and consumers as soon as possible.”