While total sales, including private, business and fleet, were down, private new car registrations were up by 483 to 222,542 units - or 0.2%. Diesel volumes also rose, by 8.9%, to 156,932 units in March compared to the same period in 2005.
"The lure of the new 06 registration plate and some excellent deals on the forecourts has seen new car buyers heading back to dealerships. The private market remains fiercely competitive despite the general slowdown in the economy," said Christopher Macgowan, SMMT chief executive.
"However, a reasonable March cannot mask the poor start to the year, and 2006 will continue to be a challenge for the industry as we fight for every sale," he said.
March and first quarter figures since introduction of twice-yearly plate change
|March registrations||Q1 total registrations|
The supermini sector showed its first growth since March 2004, with a 1.8% rise. The Ford Fiesta took second place overall, after their volumes rose by 34% or 5,535 units.
The Ford Focus remained the best seller in March and in the first quarter, despite a fall in volumes. Lower medium sector cars recorded a 10% drop in March 2006 volumes, down on a strong 2005 performance.
MG Rover's demise accounts for a drop of 11,543 units in March and 17,950 units over quarter one, compared with the overall market's drops of 7,092 and 32,299 units.
Diesel volumes showed their first increase of the year in March, rising 8.9%. Strong growth boosted their market share to 36%.
The rise in March helped first quarter diesel registrations rise by 1.8%. The Ford Focus remained the best selling model in both the month and year-to-date. Ford's Mondeo moved up to second place in both periods.