EVs accounted for one-third of all UK car sales last month, SMMT confirms

The industry body has today (5 January) published its data on car registrations for December 2022 and the entirety of 2022. The figures confirm that, overall, new car sales in the UK during the year failed to reach pre-pandemic levels. Registrations in 2022 were their lowest in 30 years and 25% lower than in 2019.

Nonetheless, the SMMT has documented how sales of electric vehicles (EVs) have weathered the pandemic and its aftershocks far more robustly than their petrol, diesel and even hybrid counterparts.

Pure battery EVs accounted for 16.6% of all new car registrations in 2022, or 267,000 vehicles, surpassing diesel for the first time to become the second most popular powertrain after petrol. Petrol cars accounted for 42.3% of registrations in 2022, for context.

Plug-in hybrid EVs accounted for 6.3% of all registrations, down slightly from 7% in 2021. This means that, collectively, all plug-in vehicles accounted for 22.9% of registrations in 2022. Hybrid EVs without a plug-in option increased their share of registrations from 8.9% in 2021 to 11.6% in 2022.

It bears noting that this performance for the EV sector comes even amid reductions in subsidy schemes and with new tax plans on the horizon. The Department for Transport (DfT)  made two consecutive reductions in the level of funding available for each car under the plug-in car grant scheme during 2021. Then, in June 2022, the Department confirmed the closure of the scheme during the 2022-23 financial year.

The plug-in car grant is available to individual motorists only. Fleets and businesses were responsible for the lion’s share of EV registrations last year, the SMMT has stated. They accounted for two-thirds of all pure battery EV registrations.

Another challenge facing the UK’s EV sector last year was continued supply chain disruption. The semiconductor shortage rolled on, impacting the ability of automakers to deliver EVs on time. Semiconductor functions in electric and hybrid cars range from engine management to providing digital in-car entertainment.

The SMMT has attributed particularly strong pure battery EV registrations in December 2022 to the fact that Tesla shipments from overseas arrived in late November and early December. The Tesla Model Y was the most popular pure battery electric car for the UK market in 2022.

Charging infrastructure conundrum

While the figures are, at a glance, good news for proponents of the EV transition, the SMMT has used its reports to raise some concerns around policymaking to support motorists in making the switch. It has argued that the EV driver experience may get worse before it gets better, and that consumers may continue to see EVs as ‘premium’ products they cannot afford, for some years without further government intervention.

The organization has argued that the Government’s plans to impose vehicle excise duty (VED) on battery EVs from 2025, with the same threshold as petrol and diesel cars, will “disproportionately penalize” motorists making the switch. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt confirmed this change in November 2022 through the Autumn Statement

Hunt said: “The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that half of all new vehicles will be electric by 2025. To make our motoring system fairer, I’ve decided that, from then, EVs will no longer be exempt from vehicle excise duty. Company car rates will remain lower for EVs. I’ve listened to industry bodies and will limit rate increases to 1% for three years from 2025.”

The SMMT is also reiterating concerns that it has voiced before around the speed of public charging point deployment in the UK. The DfT’s EV Infrastructure Strategy pledges that the UK will host at least 300,000 charging points by 2030 and as many as 720,000. The SMMT has evidence that deployment, at present, is equivalent to just one-quarter of what would be needed to meet the lower 300,000 target.

“Manufacturers’ innovation and commitment have helped EVs become the second most popular car type,” said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes. “However, for a nation aiming for electric mobility leadership, that must be matched with policies and investment that remove consumer uncertainty over switching, not least over where drivers can charge their vehicles.”

New AutoMotive has released its own Electric Car Count Figures this week. The conclusions are broadly in keeping with the SMMT’s findings, documenting a 38% year-on-year increase in EV sales for 2022 and a particularly strong December for pure electric cars.

NewAutomotive’s chief executive Ben Nelmes voiced similar concerns over subsidies and charging infrastructure. He said: “As the Government winds up grants and incentives for electric cars, it needs to be careful that these impressive numbers are not just a flash in the pan.

“Ministers should enshrine their 2035 ambition in law by introducing a California-style Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) mandate, which provides the market with clarity about the UK’s journey to cleaner road transport.”

“Delays to the UK’s plans to introduce a zero-emissions vehicle mandate risk undermining the case for investment in gigafactories and charging infrastructure. A strong ZEV mandate will bring forward running cost savings for consumers that dwarf debates about fuel duty rates.”

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