The new car market recorded its strongest February in 20 years, figures show.

Registrations of new cars were up by more than 10% last month compared with February 2023, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said.

The SMMT reiterated its plea for “fairer” taxation of electric vehicles (EVs) ahead of Wednesday’s Budget.

It is urging Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to halve VAT on the purchase of new EVs and make public charging “as easy and affordable as plugging in at home”.

Battery electric cars held a 17% market share last month.

Ian Plummer, commercial director at online vehicle marketplace Auto Trader, said: “Year-on-year growth in EV sales is encouraging but this is thanks to buoyant fleet sales, as growing numbers of drivers take advantage of benefit in kind and salary sacrifice schemes to overcome the electric upfront price barrier.

“With the 22% Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate target of all new car sales to be electric now in effect, some manufacturers are turning to substantial offers to stimulate flat retail demand and entice potential car buyers, and our data shows it’s working.

“At the end of February, one in five new car enquiries sent via Auto Trader were for EVs thanks to a few heavily discounted models.”

Under the ZEV mandate, at least 22% of new cars sold by each manufacturer in the UK this year must be zero-emission, which generally means battery EVs.

The threshold will rise annually until it reaches 100% by 2035.

Manufacturers that fail to abide by the rule or make use of flexibilities – such as trading allowances or carrying them over from previous years – will be required to pay the Government £15,000 per polluting vehicle sold above the limits.

In September last year, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delayed the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans in the UK from 2030 to 2035.

The SMMT will publish final figures for February registrations at 9am on Tuesday.