06 Jan Carmakers report booming UK sales of electric vehicles
Booming electric car sales were a bright spot in a tough car market last year amid disruption to global supply chains hitting manufacturers, according to fresh data.
In its annual sales snapshot for 2021, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said carmakers sold 190,000 battery electric cars across the country last year, accounting for about 11.6% of total sales.
Reflecting growing appetite for greener vehicles, sales rose from 108,000 in 2020, when battery-powered cars accounted for just 6.6% of new cars bought in Britain. In December 2021 alone, electric cars made up 26% of sales, a record for a single month when physical dealerships were allowed to open during the Covid pandemic.
However, sales of battery electric vehicles were a bright spot for the industry, the SMMT said, as Britons bought more electric cars in 2021 than in the previous five years combined.
Mike Hawes, the SMMT’s chief executive, said thelack of microchips used in everything from windscreen wipers to in-car entertainment systems would continue to serve as a drag on the car industry during 2022.
“[It] will undermine the market for the rest of the year,” he said.
“We think demand is still there, demand is still strong,” Hawes told reporters. “The challenge is how to supply to customers.”
Some manufacturers have managed to cope with the disruption better than others. Tesla was the standout electric performer, with its Model 3 becoming the first electric car to rank among the top 10 marques for overall sales. After reporting record deliveries this week, Tesla’s market value has surged in recent days to $1.2tn (£883bn) – more than the next 10 carmakers combined, according to data company Sentieo.
The Model 3 was beaten to the UK top spot by Vauxhall’s Corsa, which also meant that Ford’s Fiesta lost its title as the bestseller for the first time in 12 years.
Hawes said the rise of the electric car share meant that there was a “significant reduction” in the average emissions of cars sold in the UK for the second year in a row, following three years of rising emissions associated with bulky sports utility vehicles (SUVs). Although the industry lobby group has not yet completed analysis of the sales data, Hawes suggested it may be in the order of 10% or more.
Reflecting the fallout from the pandemic, overall UK sales in 2020 and 2021 were the lowest since 1992. The industry is hoping for a recovery in the coming months given signs of elevated demand such as used cars costing more than newer models. Before the emergence of the Omicron variant, the SMMT forecast that car companies would recover to sell 1.96m cars in 2022.
However, Hawes said the industry remained worried by signals from the UK government as ministers push for electric cars to go from one in every 100 on Britain’s roads to one in three by 2030, when sales of new cars with traditional internal combustion engines will be banned.
He criticised two cuts to grants for electric cars during 2021, patchy investment in on-street chargers, and a delay on plans to force car parks to install a charger first revealed by the Guardian.
“It’s a confusing message,” Hawes said. “If you’re going to achieve this it’s a massive ambition to get the entire market to move to net zero by 2030/2035, so you need to use every lever at your disposal and have a clear message to the consumer that this is the right thing to do and something that will work for the consumer.
“Anything that brings into doubt that commitment doesn’t help the consumer that might be wavering.”