The figures for 2017’s new car sales are in and, on the face of it, it was a year to forget.

Last year was the first since 2011 where Britain’s new car market retracted. It wasn’t just a minor slip-up either: 2017 suffered a 5.7 per cent decline compared to the year before, representing a drop-off of more than 152,000 units.

67 plate fiesta

Much of the fall has been pinned on sales of diesel cars, which were down by close to a fifth (17.1 per cent) – the symptom of confusing anti-diesel messages from the government, some say.

Sales in December fell by 14.4 per cent compared to the same month a year earlier, making it the ninth consecutive monthly decline.

Reasons to smile

All these figures come from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) – the organisation which crunches all the numbers regarding new car registrations in the UK – and, taken on face value, they paint a very discouraging picture.

However, in context, it’s really not so bad at all; in fact, there are actually reasons to be positive.

With more than 2.5 million new cars finding buyers in 2017, the year was the third strongest in a decade, with only 2015 and 2016 – two record-setting years – performing better.

Annual registrations

There was good news for the alternatively fuelled vehicle market too, which grew by more than a third (+34.8 per cent) in 2017.

A record number of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell cars were registered, resulting in the sector’s biggest chunk of annual market share (4.7 per cent).

Hyundai Ioniq

As such, Britain buys more plug-in cars than anywhere else in Europe, as UK demand grew by a quarter.

‘Demand historically high‘

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the SMMT, agreed that the decline in the new car market was concerning, but pointed out that demand remained at historically high levels.

“More than 2.5 million people drove away in a new car last year, benefiting from the latest, safest, cleanest and most fuel-efficient technology,” he commented.

“Falling business and consumer confidence is undoubtedly taking a toll and confusing anti-diesel messages have caused many to hesitate before buying a new low-emission diesel car.”

Top ten best-selling cars of 2017:

  1. Ford Fiesta – 94,533 units

  2. Volkswagen Golf – 74,605

  3. Ford Focus – 69,903

  4. Nissan Qashqai – 64,216

  5. Vauxhall Corsa – 52,772

  6. Vauxhall Astra – 49,370

  7. Volkswagen Polo – 47,855

  8. Mini Hatch – 47,669

  9. Mercedes-Benz C-Class – 45,912

  10. Mercedes-Benz A-Class – 43,717

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