The number of diesel cars in Britain has fallen for the first time since records began in 1994, the latest government data shows.

In 2019 there were 12.29 million diesel cars on the roads. This compares with 12.4 million a year earlier.

When records began in 1994 there were 1.6 million diesel cars licensed.

Last year there were also:

• 18.8 million petrol cars;

• 90,000 pure battery-electric cars;

• 145,000 plug-in hybrid cars;

• 514,000 mild hybrid cars.

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, commented: “These figures hint at a motoring milestone – the possibility that we have hit or even passed ‘peak diesel’ – due to the collapse in sales of new diesel cars together with the scrapping of older diesels, which have either come to the end of their useful lives or whose owners fear increasing restrictions on their use because of air quality concerns.

“Last year also saw the first drop in the volume of diesel fuel sold since the financial crisis.”

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders 583,488 new diesel cars were sold in 2019, down 21.8% on the 746,332 sold in 2018.

However, diesel-powered vans – which make up 96% of the fleet – increased in number last year, up from 3.86 million to 3.97 million.

Gooding added: “Manufacturers have struggled to develop cost-effective zero-tailpipe technologies to power these workhorse vehicles.”