New car sales increased in March ahead of tax changes
March was a record month for the UK's new car market as motorists seized the opportunity to make a purchase before sweeping tax changes were introduced, according to industry figures.
Some 562,337 new cars were registered last month, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said.
This is up 8.4% compared with March 2016 and is the largest monthly total recorded by the industry.
New vehicle excise duty (VED) rates came into force on April 1 which mean all new cars, except for those with zero emissions, are subject to an annual flat rate charge.
RAC research found t he vast majority of drivers buying new cars will pay significantly more following the changes.
SMMT chief executive M ike Hawes said: "These record figures are undoubtedly boosted by consumers reacting to new VED changes, pulling forward purchases into March, especially those ultra-low emission vehicles that will no longer benefit from a zero-rate fee.
"This bumper performance probably means we will see a slowdown in April, exacerbated by the fact there are fewer selling days this year given Easter timing.
"Looking ahead to the rest of the year, we still expect the market to cool only slightly given broader political uncertainties as there are still attractive deals on offer."
The number of new cars registered in March was more than double the totals in January and February combined.
It also sets a new record for the first quarter of a year at 820,016, up 6.2% year-on-year.
The alternatively-fuelled vehicle market grew by 31% in March to take a 4.1% market share.
Demand for petrol cars increased by 13.2%, while diesel registrations rose just 1.6%.
The year-to-date market share for diesel cars has fallen from 47.1% at this time last year to 43.9%.
Volkswagen Group admitted in September 2015 that 482,000 of its diesel vehicles in the US were fitted with defeat device software to switch engines to a cleaner mode when they were being tested for emissions.
The German manufacturer said 11 million of its vehicles were affected worldwide - including almost 1.2 million in the UK.
A Government report published in April 2016 showed diesel cars being sold in the UK emit an average of six times more nitrogen oxide in real-world driving than the legal limit used in official tests.
All but the newest diesel cars will face a £12.50 charge to drive in central London from 2019 in a bid to cut pollution, under plans unveiled by mayor Sadiq Khan.