Fleets and businesses helped UK car sales to a record all-time high last month, as buyers look to beat the planned changes to Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) that come into force this month.

According to The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), 562,337 new cars were registered in March, up 8.4 per cent on the same month last year – the biggest month since data was first collected in 1976.

From 1 April all new cars, apart from those with zero emissions, have to pay an annual flat rate charge – A record number of diesel vehicles were sold in March as well as a 31 per cent rise in alternatively fuelled vehicles.

For other low-emission cars, such as hybrids, there is a sliding scale of charges related to CO2 output for the first year of ownership. After that time, petrol or diesel vehicles are subject to a “standard” rate of £140 a year.

The SMMT said fleets and businesses were the “big contributors” to the market growth in March, with registrations up 12.6 per cent and 11.9 per cent respectively.

“These record figures are undoubtedly boosted by consumers and businesses 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,” said Mike Hawes, SMMT, CEO.

SMMT’s Hawes warned the bumper month will be followed by a slowdown in April but expects the market to remain strong in 2017.

“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,” he added.

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