SMMT: EVs set to account for one in four car registrations this year

Plug-in pure electric and hybrid cars are set to account for more than one-quarter of registrations in Britain for 2023. But the leading industry body is also sounding the alarm over delays to public charging point installations.

SMMT: EVs set to account for one in four car registrations this year

The Nissan Qashqai hybrid (pictured) was the third most popular new car in the UK last month. Image: Nissan

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), an influential UK-based trade body for the automotive industry, has today (6 February) published its car registration figures for January. The figures confirm that, while registrations were 12% lower than in January 2020 (the last ‘pre-pandemic’ January), they are 15% higher than in January 2022. The SMMT is also celebrating six months of growth in registrations.

As previous data digests from the SMMT has shown, the markets for pure-electric and hybrid vehicles have weathered the storm of Covid-19 more strongly than their internal combustion engine (ICE) counterparts – particularly diesel.

New diesel car registrations in January were 12.% down year-on-year. In contrast, hybrid-electric car registrations were up by 40.6% and pure electric car registrations were up 19.8% on January 2022 figures. Plug-in hybrid electric car registrations also saw a modest year-on-year increase of 0.7%. In total, one in five new cars registered last month came with a plug.

The SMMT is forecasting this proportion to increase to one in four cars throughout this year.

It is anticipating an 11.1% market uplift, year-on-year, to be driven by electric cars. While the SMMT has noted supply chain disruptions and accounted for economic downturn, it ultimately notes that these challenges impact ICE cars, too, and that the electric car market is likely to remain stronger.

Also posted by the SMMT today are figures concerning new light commercial vehicle registrations in January, predominantly vans. The Society has tracked a year-on-year increase of 25.8%, with the total number of registrations just 6.2% lower than in January 2020.

As has been the case with cars, electric and hybrid options contributed significantly to this growth. 53.5% more electric and hybrid vans were registered last month than in January 2021. One in 22 vans registered had a plug. The SMMT is expecting an increase in this proportion as the year goes on, with new models due to launch and awareness of recently-launched models set to increase.

Hurdles on the horizon

Nonetheless, the Society has raised some causes for concern about the future growth of the UK’s electric vehicle (EV) stock in the medium term, as the nation prepares for the ban on new ICE vans and cars to take effect in 2030.

As it has done before, the SMMT has used the publication of this latest round of data to speak out against the UK Government’s decision to apply Vehicle Excise Duty to zero-emission cars, vans and motorcycles by 2025. This decision was taken at the Autumn Statement last year.

It also wants the Government to reduce VAT on public charging point use from 20% to 5%, in line with home charging. It notes that the Budget statement next month would be an opportune moment to make these changes.

“While it is right that all drivers pay their fair share, existing plans would unfairly penalise those making the switch, and risk disincentivising the market at the time when EV uptake should be encouraged,” the SMMT said in a statement.

The SMMT is also raising concerns about the deployment of charging points across the UK, stating that the installation rate is not significant to keep pace with the rapid expansion of the plug-in vehicle stock.

It has revealed that just one public charging point was installed for every new plug-in car registered in the fourth quarter of 2022. This was a significant decrease in ratio quarter-on-quarter, from 38:1 in Q3 2022. It was also a decrease year-on-year, from 42:1 in January 2021.

“Mandating rollout targets for infrastructure and regulating service standards would give drivers certainty they can always find a working, available charger,” stated the SMMT. “Infrastructure must be built ahead of demand else poor provision risks delaying the electric transition.”

Commenting on today’s figures, British Gas’s EV director Kim Royds said: “Maintaining the momentum in the number of EVs arriving on UK roads is not going to be an easy ride without boosting the levels of investment in the charging network. It is vital that the government increases the pace at which public chargers are being installed across the country. What’s more, it needs to work with organisations and public authorities to maintain these services, and ensure they are accessible to those without off-street parking that need them the most.

“Ultimately, we need drivers to have the confidence that there are enough chargepoints for them to use if the UK’s EV revolution is to gather pace. If not, we may see a tipping point where the supply of vehicles outstrips the number of chargers available, stalling the good progress that has already been made.”

Back in March 2022, the UK Government published an Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy, outlining £1.6bn of funding to support a tenfold increase in public charging point numbers by 2030. The focus areas for the strategy were rapid chargers across the motorway network and chargers installed by local authorities at ‘hubs’ and on streets.

Building on this Strategy, the Government last month set out plans to make smart charging the most popular method of long-duration vehicle charging at homes and workplaces within two years. Smart charging technologies enable users to automatically charge at times when electricity demands and costs are lower.

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