New car sales rose for the first time in a year last month, according to industry figures – but the rise was largely attributed to one-off factors.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said 167,911 units were sold in April, 10.4% up on the same month last year.
But demand for diesel vehicles continued to crater as 25% fewer were driven out of showrooms amid uncertainty about whether they will face new taxes and restrictions.
The SMMT cautioned that the overall monthly rise reflected a poor performance over the period in 2017 when vehicle excise duty changes came into effect, helping sales slump by a fifth.
The better performance this time also partly reflected the timing of Easter as there were more selling days in April 2018 as well as bad weather in March delaying the timing of some sales.
For the year to date, sales of new cars were 8.8% lower at 886,400.
SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said the year-on-year rise in April was “not unexpected” given last year’s VED changes.
He added: “Consumers need certainty about future policies towards different fuel types, including diesel, and a compelling package of incentives to deliver long-term confidence in the newest technologies.”
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Howard Archer, chief economic advisor to the EY ITEM Club, said consumers had been cautious about making major purchases after a squeeze on spending power over the last year that is only gradually beginning to ease.
He added: “Despite April’s improved sales, the underlying performance of car sales still looked weak and the coming months look likely to remain relatively challenging for the sector.”