In Depth

Why electric car sales are at an all-time high in the UK

EV registrations jump in July despite overall vehicle sales reaching seven-year low

Electric car sales rocketed by nearly 160% in July to leave EVs now commanding their highest-ever share of the market. 

The latest vehicle registration figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reveal that 2,271 of the 157,198 new cars sold in July were battery electric vehicles, representing a 158.1% increase on the 880 EVs sold during the same period last year, Auto Express reports. 

While battery electric cars “only made up 1.4% of all new cars sold throughout July”, it still marks a “record monthly market share” for the segment, the motoring magazine says. 

The “positive news” for the EV industry was offset by substantial declines across the plug-in hybrid and diesel segments, says automotive news site Motoring Research

The number of plug-in hybrid cars sold fell from last year’s total of 3,503 to 1,764, while diesels plummeted to a 22.1% year-on-year fall, with 40,651 cars sold, Autocar notes. The figures represent the 28th consecutive monthly decline for the controversial fuel type.

Petrol cars, meanwhile, rose by 2.6% year-on-year to 103,441 vehicles sold, the magazine adds.

Overall, the total number of cars sold in July fell by 4.1% to 157,198, the lowest figure recorded since July 2012.

What’s driving EV registrations?

The £3,500 government grant given to buyers of fully electric cars appears to be a key factor behind the surge in EV sales. 

That’s in spite of cuts introduced last year, which saw the grant lowered from £4,500 to £3,500. The discounts were completely wiped out for plug-in hybrid buyers, which may have played a role in the segment’s downturn. 

According to SMMT chief Mike Hawes, the growing number of fully electric cars that are being manufactured may also be driving EV sales. 

“Thanks to manufacturers’ investment in these new technologies over many years, these cars are coming to market in greater numbers than ever before,” he said.

As reported by The Daily Telegraph, around 14,000 battery electric vehicles have been sold in the UK in 2019, a 70% increase on the same period last year. Plug-in hybrid cars, meanwhile, have slumped by “almost a third” to a total of 16,687. 

However, David Bailey, professor of business economics at the University of Birmingham, told Wired that the Government could do more to attract buyers to make the move to electric vehicles.

“[The] Government needs to think about how to encourage consumers to drive EVs and encourage firms to make EVs and batteries in the UK,” he said. “That means much more of a broad-based industrial policy than we have seen so far, encouraging investment in production as well as innovation, skills and the supply chain.”

Hawes agrees, urging the Government to “create the right conditions to drive uptake, including long-term incentives and investment in infrastructure.

“The fastest way to address air quality concerns is through fleet renewal so buyers need to be given the confidence to invest in the new, cleaner vehicles that best suit their driving needs, regardless of how they are powered,” he said.

The UK’s best-selling cars in July

According to SMMT, the best-selling cars of July are as follows:

1 - Ford Fiesta (5,646 cars sold)

2 - Volkswagen Golf (4,288)

3 - Nissan Qashqai (4,047)

4 - Ford Focus (3,863)

5 - Mercedes-Benz A-Class (3,702)

6 - Vauxhall Corsa (3,079)

7 - Ford Kuga (2,921)

8 - Volkswagen Tiguan (2,624)

9 - Volkswagen Polo (2,568)

10 - Kia Sportage  (2,292)

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