The UK new car market declined 2.9% in February, according to data published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

It reported that 79,594 models were registered in the month, traditionally one of the year’s quietest ahead of the March number plate change, with the decline driven primarily by weak consumer confidence and uncertainty over what fuel technology to buy.

Demand for both diesel and petrol cars fell in the month, with registrations down 27.1% and 7.3% respectively, with diesel now accounting for just over a fifth of sales (21.9%).

Hybrids (HEVs) recorded an uplift of 71.9% to 4,154 units, while registrations of zero emission capable cars also continued to enjoy growth, with battery electric vehicles (BEVs) rising more than three-fold to 2,508 units and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) up 49.9% to 2,058. However, these vehicles still make up just 5.8% of the market; and BEVs only 3.2%.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “Another month of decline for the new car market is especially concerning at a time when fleet renewal is so important in the fight against climate change. Next week’s Budget is the Chancellor’s opportunity to reverse this trend by restoring confidence to the market and showing that government is serious about delivering on its environmental ambitions. Industry has invested in the technology, with a huge influx of new zero- and ultra-low emission models coming to market in 2020, and we now need government to match this with a comprehensive package of incentives and infrastructure spending to accelerate demand.

“To drive the transition to zero emission motoring, we need carrots, not sticks – as the evidence shows, talk of bans and penalties only means people hang on to their older, more polluting vehicles for longer. It’s time for a change of approach, which means encouraging the consumer to invest in the cleanest new car that best suits their needs. If that is to be electric, government must take bold action to make these vehicles more affordable and as convenient to recharge as their petrol and diesel equivalents are to refuel.

“Environmental issues must be addressed now which means encouraging fleet renewal of all technologies, whether they be fully electric, hydrogen, hybrid or modern, efficient petrol and diesel engine cars, because these vehicles can deliver air quality and climate change improvements now. Until electric vehicle affordability and charging infrastructure gaps are addressed, these vehicles will remain a minority.”