Diesel drop-off drives biggest annual drop in auto sales since 2009

The average carbon dioxide emissions of newly sold cars has risen for the first time since records began

The demand for diesel vehicles fell by 17 per cent as many motorists sought to avoid more polluting fuels and new penalties for those who drive them.

Mr Hawes stressed that sales "have not gone off a cliff: 2017 is still the third biggest year for the industry in a decade".

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the United Kingdom automotive industry's trade body, has forecast a further 5% to 7% decline in sales in 2018.

The SMMT admitted it was not all doom and gloom as 2017's figures still represented the third best year for new auto registrations in the past decade.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said 2017 had proved "very, very volatile", with "confusion" over the fate of diesels combining with Brexit-linked uncertainty to hit consumer and business confidence.

"Diesel is far from dead", Hawes said. Consumers should be encouraged to buy the right vehicle for their lifestyle and driving needs irrespective of fuel type - whether that be petrol, electric, hybrid or diesel as it could save them money. "Some can save £400 a year driving a diesel rather than a petrol".

"Falling business and consumer confidence is undoubtedly taking a toll, however, and confusing anti-diesel messages have caused many to hesitate before buying a new low emission diesel vehicle".

Hawes also said that the British vehicle industry needs clarification on a Brexit transition deal by the end of March - and that if this isn't in place, manufacturers are likely to implement "contingency plans", such as temporary warehousing, that could ultimately make the United Kingdom a less appealing base for investment and manufacturing.

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