UK new car sales edge up as electric vehicle uptake doubles

Market still well below pre-pandemic levels as supply chain challenges persist

The green technology revolution continues, with the market share of battery electric vehicle registrations doubling to 18.8 per cent in November. Reuters
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British new car registrations rose for the first time in five months in November as battery electric vehicle (BEV) uptake doubled.

However, the market still remains well adrift of pre-coronavirus pandemic levels.

Sales increased 1.7 per cent in November, compared with the same month a year ago, with 115,700 cars registered, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

However, that is still 31 per cent below the pre-pandemic five-year average.

However, the green technology revolution continued to change the market, with the proportion of BEV registrations doubling to 18.8 per cent of the total in November, from 9.1 per cent a year ago.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said what appears to be a positive performance belies the underlying weakness of the market.

“Demand is there, with a slew of new, increasingly electrified models launched but the global shortage of semiconductors continues to bedevil production and, therefore, new car registrations,” he said.

The slight increase in UK car sales contrasts with continued declines in Europe’s largest markets such as Germany, France and Spain, while around the world, car makers have struggled with semiconductor and other supply shortages that have hampered output and forced some factories to halt production.

Despite the challenges, the switch to green cars is accelerating with Britain’s production of the latest battery electric, plug-in hybrid and hybrid vehicles, accounting for about a third of all cars made in the country, according to September figures from the SMMT.

Plug-in cars accounted for about 28 per cent of the sales market in November, the SMMT said, when you include plug-in hybrid vehicles’ (PHEVs), whose market share grew to 9.3 per cent or 10,796 units.

This year, about 1.54 million new cars have been registered, of which 17.5 per cent have been BEVs or PHEVs, meaning one in six new cars is capable of being plugged in.

When combined with hybrid electric vehicles, more than a quarter of the new car market during 2021 has been electrified.

Despite this uptake in demand for green vehicles, the pace of on-street public charging infrastructure is lagging behind, with the number of plug-in cars potentially sharing a public on-street charger deteriorating to 16, from 11, between 2019 and 2020 and only one standard on-street public charger installed for every 52 new plug-in cars registered over the course of this year.

“The continued acceleration of electrified vehicle registrations is good for the industry, the consumer and the environment but, with the pace of public charging infrastructure struggling to keep up, we need swift action and binding public charger targets so that everyone can be part of the electric vehicle revolution, irrespective of where they live,” Mr Hawes said.

Meanwhile, private demand for all cars rose 42 per cent in November, taking the private market share to an unusual high of 54 per cent, with Mini and specialist sports vehicle segments both recording significant increases in demand of 140 per cent and 67 per cent, respectively.

However, the SMMT said the growth reflects the impact that the November 2020 lockdown had on consumer purchases, as well as the supply-constrained nature of the market as the shortage of semiconductors undermines both production and registrations of new vehicles.

The number of new cars registered to large fleets declined by a quarter.

“The industry is working flat out to overcome these issues and fulfil orders but disruption is likely to last into next year, compounding the need for customers to place orders early,” Mr Hawes said.

Richard Peberdy, KPMG’s automotive head, said the supply chain shortages continue to limit the amount of cars produced. However demand for what is available, old and new, continues to outpace supply.

“That is reassuring for the industry, despite the frustration and financial challenge of not being able to increase supply in order to meet demand,” he said.

Updated: December 06, 2021, 11:36 AM