Electric vehicles are bright spot in UK car sales slump

Supply shortages blamed as total new car registrations fell to the lowest level since 1992

An electric car charger. PA
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Electric vehicles have been the bright spark in a grim year for new car sales in the UK, figures published on Thursday show.

Supply shortages were blamed as new car registrations fell to the lowest level since 1992, with about 1.61 million new cars registered in 2022, preliminary data released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders shows.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said the figures revealed the need for a significant increase in investment in electric car charging.

The Nissan Qashqai topped the ranking of overall new car registrations in 2022, followed by the Vauxhall Corsa, Tesla Model Y, Ford Puma and Mini.

Battery electric new cars took a market share of about 17 per cent in 2022, overtaking diesel for the first time to become the second most popular system after petrol.

And 23 per cent of all new cars registered in 2022 were plug-in vehicles, including both pure and plug-in hybrids.

That was a new high, but it also represented a smaller year-on-year rise compared with the previous 12 months.

The market share for plug-in vehicles rose from 10.7 per cent in 2020 to 18.6 per cent in 2021.

“The automotive market remains adrift of its pre-pandemic performance but could well buck wider economic trends by delivering significant growth in 2023,” Mr Hawes said.

“To secure that growth — which is increasingly zero-emission growth — government must help all drivers go electric and compel others to invest more rapidly in nationwide charging infrastructure.”

December saw battery electrics claim their largest ever monthly market share of 33 per cent, driven by a large number of Tesla cars being delivered.

Sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans in the UK will be banned from 2030.

“The bright spot last year was battery electric vehicles and hybrids, which accounted for almost one in four of new car sales," said Erin Baker, editorial director at Auto Trader.

“Electric vehicles need to be easier to afford, charge and buy to keep sales on track and ultimately meet the government’s targets.”

However, the picture is not entirely clear cut.

According to online used car marketplace heycar data, from January to the end of May 2022, when high fuel prices rocked the country, demand for electric vehicles (EV) increased by 56 per cent. However, demand dropped 60 per cent between June and November.

"EV leads were up 34 per cent in December compared to the same point last year," said Chris Evans, Head of Sales at heycar.

"However, our data also suggest that some motorists want the positives of electric vehicle ownership without the drawbacks of range anxiety and limited public charging infrastructure. As a result, many are choosing hybrid cars, with demand for these vehicles increasing by over 64 per cent year on year."

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The total number of new car registrations was down 2 per cent from 2021 when there were 1.65 million.

“Manufacturers have really struggled to be able to make the vehicles in sufficient quantities, primarily due to semiconductor shortages but there are other parts shortages behind that as well,” Mr Hawes said.

“Lockdowns in China have not helped, high logistics costs, more pressure on raw materials …

“The complexities of global manufacturing have really been brought to bear heavily on the industry this past year.”

The UK reclaimed its position as Europe’s second largest new car market behind Germany after being overtaken by France in recent years.

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Updated: January 05, 2023, 9:19 AM