Britain's new car market recorded the highest number of vehicle registrations for ten years last month, assisted by the changeover to the new 14-plate and a significant increase in hybrid and electric vehicle sales.
The total of 464,824 new car registrations represents a year-on-year increase of 17.7 per cent compared to March 2013. In the first three months of the year, a total of 688,122 new cars have been registered.
March is typically the biggest month of the year for registrations, accounting for almost a fifth of full-year registrations.
Since the UK moved to a twice-yearly plate change in 1999, the only month to post higher registrations was March 2004, when 466,954 vehicles were registered. Last month's total was just 2130 units short of the record 2004 total.
"March showed a surprisingly strong level of growth and a reflection of intensifying consumer confidence and the availability of great new products," said Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive.
"Given the past six years of subdued economic performance across the UK, there is still a substantial margin of pent-up demand that is contributing to a strong new and used car market.
"There has never been a better time to buy a new car, thanks to attractive finance deals and advanced technologies that often make new cars cheaper to run. We expect the market to continue to perform positively for the rest of the year, albeit at a more modest rate."
March was also the biggest-ever month for alternatively fuelled vehicles, which recorded a 63.8 per cent year-on-year increase to 8713 new registrations. However, this segment still holds a small market share compared to petrol, which accounts for 48.7 per cent of the market, and diesel (49.5 per cent).
The Ford Fiesta continued its reign as Britain's top-selling car, ahead of the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Corsa.
UK's best-selling cars in March 2014
1 Ford Fiesta 25,753 units registered
2 Ford Focus 16,860
3 Vauxhall Corsa 16,231
4 Volkswagen Golf 13,142