Revealing that a total of 183,724 vehicles had been registered in the month, a drop of 4.6% on May 2018, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) blamed the fall on continuing uncertainty over diesel and clean air zones and as the removal of incentives for plug-in hybrid vehicles.
An SMMT statement added that buyer confidence, whether in the private or business market, was continuing to be hit by the economic and political instability over Brexit.
Year-to-date the picture is slightly healthier, the market down 3% with 33,000 fewer cars registered compared with 2018.
All sales markets dropped in the month, with the biggest hit in the business sector, down 29%. Showrooms saw 5% fewer private buyers, while the fleet market slid by 3%.
The shift away from diesel continued apace, for a 26th consecutive month with a drop of more than 18%. The SMMT blamed ongoing anti-diesel sentiment and the forthcoming introduction of low-emission zones continuing to affect buyer confidence, arguing that thanks to significant industry investment in new technology, the latest diesels are safer and cleaner than ever before and will not face charges or restrictions in the new zones.
Alternative-fuelled cars continue to increase in popularity. Full electric vehicles were up 81%, though they still only account for just over one per cent of the full market. Petrol-electric hybrids gained 35% with 7,785 registered, but plug-in hybrids again fell in popularity, down more than 40%.
Year to date plug-in hybrids have lost a quarter of their market, compared to a 36% increase in the first five months of 2018, which the SMMT argues is further evidence of the effect of the Government cutting grants for plug-in car sales.
Reacting to the figures SMMT Chief Executive, Mike Hawes, said that confusing policy messages and changes to incentives were encouraging drivers to keep hold of their older, more polluting vehicles for longer.
“New cars are safer, cleaner and more advanced than ever and, with sophisticated safety, efficiency and comfort features as well as a host of attractive deals on offer, there has never been a better time to invest in a new car,” Hawes said.
The Ford Fiesta continues to dominate the new car top ten, its 6,710 registrations in May more than 1,100 ahead of nearest rival, its larger sister the Ford Focus. Year to date the Fiesta has sold 9,000 more than the Focus, with the Volkswagen Golf close behind the larger Ford in third.