NEW car sales have increased at their fastest pace for a decade, a report has revealed.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) says 464,824 new vehicles were registered last year, a rise of 17.7 per cent on a year earlier.

The figure was also the second-highest on record since the industry introduced twice-yearly car registrations in 1999.

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It added in the three months to March, car sales lifted 13.7 per cent to 688,122, with the Sunderland-made Nissan Qashqai the sixth best selling model in March.

The month also saw the biggest-ever rise in sales of alternatively-fuelled vehicles, with sales soaring 63.8 per cent to 8,713.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “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.”

The results comes after the SMMT earlier this week warned the North-East's car-making industry, spearheaded by Nissan, would be dealt a massive blow if the UK severed ties with the EU.