NEW car sales stayed in reverse in January despite a surge in private buyers changing their vehicles.
According to industry body the SMMT, private car sales were up 2.9 per cent in the first month of the year and the demand for electric and hybrid models also continued an upward trend rising by 26.3 per cent.
However, business and fleet sales were down again by 33.5 and 3.4 per cent respectively leading to an overall decline of 1.6 per cent with 161,013 vehicles leaving forecourts.
SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said the rise in private trade was welcome but called on the Government to do more to get drivers to switch to newer and cleaner cars.
With Brexit uncertainty still having an impact on car sales he 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."
The Ford Fiesta remained the nation's favourite new car notching up some 5,399 sales in January followed by the Ford Focus at 4,397 and the British-built Nissan Qashqai with 4,270 being registered.
Private buyers accounted for 71,378 sales in the first month of the year while demand for so-called alternatively fuelled vehicles rose again and now accounts for 6.8 per cent of the entire market.
The SMMT said that the alternative fuel sector was expected to grow by more than a quarter this year and would account for sales of almost 180,000 vehicles by the end of the year with almost a half of that number being ultra-low emission plug-in hybrids and battery electrics - taking plug-in market share to around 3.7 per cent as an ever-increasing number of models come on sale.
Sales of petrol cars rose by 7.3 per cent in January to 103,176 while diesels continued to decline - down 20.3 per cent compared to this time last year at 46,823.