In the latest update from the automotive industry, January's figures spotlight a notable surge in electric vehicle (EV) sales across the UK, marking a 21% increase compared to the previous year. This upward trajectory has propelled the cumulative sales of EVs since 2002 to surpass the one million mark, with over 10,882 new units reported to have been delivered nationwide last month alone. These insights, courtesy of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), also highlight the kick-off of the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate, which significantly contributed to this growth.
Despite this achievement, the share of EVs within the overall new car market has seen a slight dip, settling at 14.7% for January, a decrease from the 16.5% average observed throughout 2023. This has prompted the SMMT to reiterate its call for government action, specifically advocating for a temporary 50% reduction in VAT on new EV purchases to stimulate demand and counteract market stagnation. The call to action is underpinned by the fact that the UK remains the sole primary market, lacking substantial consumer incentives for EV adoption.
"It's taken just over 20 years to reach our million EV milestone - but with the right policies, we can double down on that success in just another two," said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes. "Market growth is currently dependent on businesses and fleets.
A deeper dive into the figures reveals a dichotomy in demand sources: a robust 41.7% increase in fleet and business acquisitions of EVs, fueled by appealing tax incentives, starkly contrasts with a 25.1% decline in purchases by private consumers compared to last year.
"Government must, therefore, use the upcoming Budget to support private EV buyers, temporarily halving VAT to cut carbon, drive economic growth, and help everyone make the switch. Manufacturers have been asked to supply the vehicles; we now ask the government to help consumers buy the vehicles on which net zero depends."
The outlook for battery electric vehicles over the current year has been adjusted to anticipate a 21% market share, a slight revision from earlier projections. This adjustment reflects rising energy costs, inflation, interest rates, concerns over charging infrastructure, and inconsistent government messaging, collectively dampening consumer enthusiasm.
Commenting on the figures, Kim Royds, mobility director at Centrica, said the new car market - and particularly EVs, continued to "defy expectations and deliver sustained growth."
"Inequality of public charging infrastructure remains a significant hurdle to widespread EV adoption, but that's only one piece of the puzzle," she said. "Delivering at-home and kerbside charge point solutions with affordable charging costs will go a long way to convince would-be EV drivers that an electric future can be achievable.
"We need to strike a balance between home and public charging to create an easily accessible and cost-effective infrastructure that doesn't exclude anybody from the transition."
Ralph Palmer, an electric vehicle and fleets officer at Transport & Environment, said that to continue to drive increased demand for EVs, the government needs to provide better information to consumers and ensure more equitable access to charge points.
"Electric vehicles sales are showing a steady share of sales overall and have risen 21 percent compared to January last year, with one million battery electric vehicles now having been sold," he said. "Everyone expects the share of electric vehicles to grow through 2024 as the zero-emissions vehicle mandate incentivizes car makers to sell EVs and as supply problems settle down. However, the government needs to support private buyers to switch to EVs by providing better information about going electric and leveling up the provision of charge points throughout the country."
Furthermore, the Department for Transport has announced a new initiative to support the expansion of EV charging infrastructure in educational settings. A newly launched grant will cover up to 75% of the costs for schools and nurseries to install charging points, a move aimed at facilitating staff and visitor access to charging and potentially creating an additional revenue stream by making these facilities available to the public.
This initiative, part of the broader Workplace Charging Scheme, coincides with the approval of the first capital payments through the £381m Local Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Fund, targeting enhanced charging infrastructure across various regions. The government's commitment to this endeavor is further underscored by recruiting over 100 dedicated EV officers and introducing specialized training for local authority staff, setting the stage for a more electric vehicle-friendly future in the UK.
"We're getting on with delivering our Plan for Drivers, and this latest set of measures will mean EV owners everywhere benefit from easier and more convenient access to charge points," said Transport Technology and Decarbonisation Minister Anthony Browne. "This government has already spent over £2bn to ensure a smooth switch to EVs, and we're committed to supporting drivers as we transition towards net zero in a proportionate way that doesn't burden working people."
Baroness Baran, Minister for the School System and Student Finance at the Department for Education, said the new grants were "an exciting opportunity for schools across England to become part of an ongoing move towards a greener public sector."
"Schools engaging with this grant will be supporting the development of green infrastructure, helping to improve their local environments," she said. Developing a greener education estate is a key element of our Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy. The expansion of this grant supports our ambition to improve the sustainability of our schools in the ongoing move towards net zero."
In related EV news, the latest funding announcement comes days after the government published new guidance on e-scooters and e-bike battery safety for users, owners, and transport operators.