New car registrations for May were down 8.5 per cent compared with last year as diesel sales continued to struggle.

There were 20 per cent fewer diesel car sales compared with May 2016, though the decline has slowed slightly after diesel figures slumped by 27.3 per cent in April.

Bad press following the Volkswagen emissions scandal and, more recently, discussions about heavy taxes for older diesel cars, have seen consumers turning away from the fuel. That’s despite reassurances from the car industry and government bodies that new ‘Euro 6’ diesels are cleaner and would be exempt from restrictions.

Alternatively-fuelled vehicles continue to benefit from changing attitudes to buck the declining sales trend, seeing an increase of 46.7 per cent compared with May last year.

However, year-to-date figures are still strong, with overall registrations sitting just 0.6 per cent below this time last year after a record March.

Mike Hawes, chief executive of car industry trade body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said: “We expected demand in the new car market to remain negative in May due to the pull-forward to March – which was an all-time record month – resulting from vehicle excise duty reform.

“Added to this, the general election was always likely to give many pause for thought and affect purchasing patterns in the short term.

“Although demand has fallen, it’s important to remember that the market remains at a very high level and, with a raft of new models packed with the latest low emission and connected technology coming to market this summer, we expect the market to remain strong over the year.”