UK’s electric bus sales boomed in 2023, SMMT confirms

Almost three times as many double-decker buses were registered in the UK in 2023 than in 2022, with the share of zero-emission models increasing, according to new official industry figures.

UK’s electric bus sales boomed in 2023, SMMT confirms

Image: First Bus

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has confirmed a 44.6% increase in new bus and coach registrations, year-on-year, for 2023. This year-on-year increase was steepest for double-deck models, 173.6%, and smallest for minibus models.

Almost half (45.1%) of the buses, coaches and minibuses registered last year were either electric or hydrogen – a higher proportion than the year prior and also up on pre-pandemic levels.

New additions last year means that the UK now hosts Europe’s largest national zero-emission bus stock.

The SMMT has attributed the acceleration of zero-emission bus uptake partly to Government funding.

The Department for Transport (DfT) supported the uptake of 1,300 zero-emission buses through its first funding round under the Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas (ZEBRA) scheme, which covers up to 75% of the upfront costs of zero-emission buses. This funding was announced in 2022 but the SMMT noted that much of this funding was not actually provided until early 2023.

A second round of ZEBRA funding totalling £129m was opened to applications in autumn 2023 and payments are expected this year. Under the scheme, local authorities are required to bid for a share of the funding on a competitive basis. If successful, they must order their buses by the end of January 2025.

The SMMT said “there is no time to lose” for councils still wishing to benefit from the scheme.

Other factors contribute to the rise in e-bus registrations, the SMMT noted, including technology improvements and the need for fleet operators to comply with local air quality and emissions requirements.

“Given their depot-based, circular routes, decarbonising bus fleets can be less complex than some other use cases – plus, the added halo effects of mass zero emission mobility, lower noise and improved air quality all prove highly attractive,” the trade body said in a statement.

Minibus challenges

The SMMT tracked a modest 18.3% year-on-year increase in minibus registrations and, for vehicles of these size, the proportion of zero-emission models has remained stagnant.

There are no UK Government subsidies tailored specifically to electric and hydrogen minibuses.

Another barrier to uptake, the SMMT argues, is the fact that minibus drivers need to obtain a special licence. This rule is set to change in 2025, bringing licencing in line with vans, which require no additional special documentation.

The SMMT has heard evidence that many minibus operators are delaying investment in zero-emission models until their drivers are permitted to drive them without additional training or licencing.

This is of particular concern given that minibuses are often used to transport those from vulnerable demographics, such as the elderly or those with disabilities.

“Speeding up licence derogations could unleash demand in the minibus market, helping provide zero emission mass mobility for all with the air quality, carbon emission and wider economic benefits that come with this transition,” said SMMT chief Mike Hawes.

Related feature: Six top tips for adding electric vehicles to your fleet

Comments (1)

  1. Peter Reineck says:

    York is a poor choice of cities with electris buses. As usual City of York Council is ahead of the curve with news of electric buses, with the good old boys of First in support. However it has merged that the power supply to the depot is insufficient so buses are being recharged at public charging points or from diesel generators at the depot, and some have been sent to Leeds in exchange for diesel buses. You could not make it up!

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