LONDON -- UK car sales suffered their biggest annual slide since the global recession, stunted by Brexit's impact on buyer confidence and lingering skepticism over the emissions performance of diesel cars.
Sales fell 5.7 percent in 2017 to 2.54 million vehicles, the steepest drop since 2009, according to the Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
Demand for diesel autos slumped 17 percent, with a swing back to gasoline models prompting the first annual increase in carbon emissions since records began in 1997.
Sales in December fell 14 percent to 152,473 vehicles. SMMT CEO Mike Hawes said further declines were likely over the next few months.
"The first quarter is going to be tough and March (last year) in particular was an all-time record month. We ain't going to get that next March," he said.
The decline in sales from record levels in the past two years comes as uncertainty surrounding the outcome of Brexit negotiations weighs on consumer sentiment and the drop in the value of the pound crimps Britons’ spending power. The slide is set to continue next year, with the SMMT forecasting a sales dip of 5 percent to 7 percent.
"The market is still close to historic highs, nevertheless we are seeing a decline, which is a concern," Hawes said in a briefing in London.
"The two main reasons are business-led and consumer confidence and the confusion around diesel which has caused hold-off," he said of last year's fall.
Concerns over the rigged emissions-testing of diesel cars from Volkswagen Group and other automakers is also discouraging owners from purchasing new vehicles, while others have switched to gasoline-powered models, a trend that has reversed a 19-year run of annual declines in new car emissions.
Initial data shows such autos emitted 121.04 grams of CO2 per km in 2017, up 0.94 grams from a year earlier.
Britons bought 119,000 hybrid and fully electric vehicles in 2017, or 4.7 percent of total sales. Some 87 alternatively-fueled models are currently available in the UK market, Hawes said.
Ford No. 1
Ford remained the UK's top-selling brand last year despite a 9.7 decline in sales for the full year and 25 percent drop in December. Volkswagen brand was No. 2 with a gain of 0.7 though the year and 1.9 percent fall in December. No. 3 Vauxhall's volume plunged 22 percent last year and by the same percentage in December.
Other big losers for the year were Jeep with sales down 55 percent, DS with volume down 43 percent and Fiat with sales down 27 percent.
Click here for full-year and December sales by brand.
Reuters and Automotive News Europe contributed to this report