SOARING sales of electric vehicles despite a crash in the UK's new car market is good news for the future of Oxford's Mini plant, it was claimed yesterday.

Figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) showed the first drop in new car sales in the UK for six years with 5.7 per cent less sold in 2017 compared to the year before.

A stark drop in diesel sales, at 17.1 per cent, were behind the crash which industry experts said was a sign of 'confusion about the future' with concerns about air pollution and higher taxes.

But a spokesman for BMW Mini, Chris Overall, pointed to a rise in electric vehicle sales - up 34.8 per cent to pass 100,000 for the first time - as 'providing confidence in the company's electrification strategy.'

He said Mini had sold nearly 1,000 units of its first electrified vehicle, the Countryman Plug-in Hybrid, since it was launched in June last year raising expectations that the fully electric Mini will be a success.

This new model of the car is set to go in to production in 2019 with its electric motor built in Germany before being shipped to Cowley for assembly.

Sales of the existing Mini remained steady with the SMMT figures showing that 68,166 new Minis were sold in 2017, compared to 68,984 in 2016, a 1.19 per cent drop.

Spokesman for the Cowley Plant Steve Wrelton said the car had 'outperformed the wider market despite challenging trading conditions'.

He added: "The brand’s overall UK market share grew from 2.56 per cent in 2016 to 2.68 per cent in 2017.”

Council leaders said the new figures confirmed that the city's bold transport policies were moving in the right direction.

Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council plan to create what is thought to be the world's first Zero Emissions Zone and ban all non-electric vehicles the city centre by 2035 in order to cut levels of harmful nitrogen dioxide.

The two councils are also installing 100 electric charging stations in streets across the city to encourage drivers to go electric.

John Tanner, Oxford City Council's board member for a clean and green Oxford, said: "These figures show electric cars are the future.

"It confirms what we have been saying all along - we have to get out of fossil fuels and move towards a renewable future.

"Oxford is leading the way and lots of other cities are following."

Mr Tanner added that he was confident the electric Mini would be a success and that the council 'would do everything it could to support the plant.'