6 Jan 22

Electric vehicles storm UK new car sales in 2021

Light commercial vehicles and battery electric cars delivered good news for the UK's new car market 

The Tesla Model 3 became the second best-selling car in the UK last year as sales of electric cars increased dramatically. Pure battery electric cars accounted for one-in-nine new car sales in 2021, achieving a total of 190,727 registrations that exceeded the combined EV sales from 2016-2020.

Plug-in hybrid (PHEV) models added to the UK’s zero emission fleet, rising 70.6% year on year to 114,554 sales in 2021. The UK intends to ban the sale of cars and light commercial vehicles with internal combustion engines from 2030, with PHEVs banned from 2035.

Overall, the new car market was only 1% up on 2020, at 1,647,181 registrations, with sales suffering due to lockdowns in the early part of the year, followed by new car supply shortages because of the semiconductor crisis. Fleet sales finished the year -4.4% down on 2020, at 812,029 registrations, representing a 49.3% market share.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, described 2021 as ‘desperately disappointing’ for the car industry.

“Despite the challenges, the undeniable bright spot is the growth in electric car uptake. A record-breaking year for the cleanest, greenest vehicles is testament to the investment made by the industry over the past decade and the inherent attractiveness of the technology. The models are there, with two of every five new car models now able to be plugged in,” he said.

Achieving the industry’s net zero ambitions, however, requires progress on the cost of electric vehicles and the development of charging infrastructure, said Hawes.

“Recent cuts to incentives and home charging grants should be reversed and we need to boost the roll out of public on-street charging with mandated targets, providing every driver, wherever they live, with the assurance they can charge where they want and when they want,” he said.

Among major manufacturers, Ford saw its sales drop by 24%, Renault was down by 30%, Mercedes-Benz saw its sales tumble by 12%, and Vauxhall was down by 4%. Moving in the other direction, Hyundai sales were up by 47%, Kia boosted its registrations by 29%, and Audi and Toyota both increased their sales by more than 9%. BMW and Volkswagen sales were almost level with 2020.

Overall, diesel continued its long-term decline, slipping to 14% of the market, while petrol reinforced its position as the UK’s most popular powertrain, accounting for 58.3% of all new cars registered in 2021. BEVs achieved an 11.6% market share, followed by hybrids with 8.9% and PHEVs at 7.0%.

Light commercial vehicle sales

There was a more positive story for light commercial vehicle sales, which rose by 21.4% in 2021, to 355,380 units, compared to the previous year. The growth was driven by a 27.8% rise in registrations of 2.5 to 3.5 tonne vans, to a total of 243,889. Construction and home delivery fuelled the demand for new vans.

The LCV sector lags well behind the car market in its adoption of alternative fuels – only 3.6% of vans sold were electric last year in the UK, while diesel accounted for 95% of sales.

Images: Shutterstock and SMMT

Authored by: Jonathan Manning