EV boom sees more electric cars sold in 2021 than in previous 5 years

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Battery vehicles buck trend as new car market struggles for second year

More electric cars were sold in the UK in 2021 than in the previous five years combined, as EVs bucked an overall stagnation in the new car market.

A record-breaking 190,727 EVs were registered throughout the year, representing a 76% increase on 2020 and in stark contrast to the overall 1% rise in new car registrations.

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Industry observers said the continued rise of EV’s a rare positive in a difficult year but warned that more investment in infrastructure and incentives was still needed.

According to data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), pure electric cars now represent just under 12% of all new cars while hybrids, which also enjoyed increased sales, make up a further 16%.

EVs accounted for 12% of the new car market in 2021EVs accounted for 12% of the new car market in 2021
EVs accounted for 12% of the new car market in 2021 | Nissan

However, petrol cars still made up almost half of the 1.6 million new car registrations last year, despite a 16% decline. Diesel registrations continued to struggle, falling 48% compared with the already weakened 2020 figures.

While the market saw a slight increase over 2020’s figures, which were severely affected by Covid, the market is still nearly 30% down compared to pre-pandemic figures due to global supply shortages and changes to trading agreements.

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Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said EV registrations were a “bright spot” amid a “desperately disappointing” year but warned that the industry and consumers still needed support.

He said: “The biggest obstacle to our shared net zero ambitions is not product availability but cost and charging infrastructure. 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.”

Jim Holder, editorial director, What Car?, said he expected the rise of EVs to continue in 2022. He commented: “With a growing number of new models to choose from, improvements in vehicle range and public charging capacity, attitudes to electric vehicles are quickly changing. Our own research found electric vehicle buyers now constitute a higher share of those buying a brand new car than those buying a petrol or diesel model.

“But that’s as far as the good news goes. The semiconductor shortage remains a massive problem for almost all manufacturers, with delivery times pushed to beyond a year for many models. With new Brexit-related customs controls, rising price levels and growing Covid cases, the start of 2022 is set to continue to test the sector to its limits. The Government needs to take the automotive industry into account when planning further economic stimulus packages.”

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Ian Plummer, commercial director at Auto Trader, speculated that the fuel crisis, coupled with the growing range of options may have helped spur on the growth in the EV market but warned that the Government could not take increased interest for granted. He added: “EV charging infrastructure needs to be upgraded urgently to ensure mass adoption becomes appealing, convenient, and affordable. The Government risks losing the trust of motorists yet again if they continue to encourage a change that they have failed to adequately prepare for.”

And Meryem Brassington, EV specialist at Lex Autolease said that financial incentives such as the plug-in car grant needed to be maintained to, commenting  “Continued fiscal support has been the driving factor behind increased adoption levels to date but we cannot afford to let this slip. We’ve already seen reductions to the Plug-in Car Grant and any future tax or grant changes must be gradual and proportional until we begin to see cost parity between some ICE and EV models.

“What’s more, without fiscal support to encourage second-hand acquisition, growth may stall and impact the overall picture of the UKs electric car parc.”

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