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UK car sales hit six-year low on Brexit and emissions uncertainty

LONDON (Reuters) – The number of new cars sold in Britain last year fell to its lowest since 2013, as consumers held back from purchases amid increased restrictions on diesel vehicles and ongoing economic uncertainty in the run-up to Brexit.

FILE PHOTO: Imported cars are parked in a storage area at Sheerness port, Sheerness, Britain, October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Britain is Europe’s second-largest market for new vehicles, and Monday’s figures add to signs that households grew more cautious about their spending last year, despite low unemployment and rising wages.

New car registrations dropped by 2% in 2019 to 2.31 million, according to provisional data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the third annual fall since sales peaked at 2.69 million in 2016.

“Undoubtedly consumer confidence on big-ticket items is still very weak,” SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes said.

Car buyers’ reluctance to purchase diesel vehicles following Volkswagen’s emissions scandal, plus planned restrictions on older diesel vehicles going into city centres, also hurt demand.

Sales in December alone were up 4% from a year earlier, when stocks of some models were limited pending new emissions tests.

Brexit remained the industry’s top concern, Hawes said, due to the risk of 10% tariffs on imports and exports of cars in

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