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Huge increase in EV registrations defies overall decline in UK car sales

Updated: Jan 8, 2021

Photo source: SMMT

In a year to forget for the beleaguered UK car industry, the electric vehicle (EV) sector bucked the trend by reporting a huge increase in sales over 2019. As sales of cars plummeted during the Covid-19 pandemic, new registrations of battery-only models increased by a staggering 186% against the previous year.

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT), the car industry in total saw a decline of new registrations of 680,000 or 29% in 2020. Battery-operated vehicles (BEV) broke the 100,000 sales barrier for the first time with total sales of 108,000 for the year; an increase of 70,000 against 2019. Plug-in EVs saw a near-doubling of sales with 67,000 models being bought.

Pure EVS (battery and plug-in models) are now gaining a toehold in the market with 10.7% of total registrations; a significant increase over the 3.2% share in 2019.

These encouraging statistics are evidence of a shift in attitude of drivers towards EVs. This will be exacerbated, no doubt, by the announcement in November of the UK government’s intention to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030. It is also worth noting from the SMMT data that the Tesla Model 3 was the biggest selling car in the UK during the month of December – surely a harbinger for even better times ahead.

The news from the UK pales by comparison, however, with that emerging from Norway which became the first country in the world where yearly sales of EVs exceeded those powered by petrol, diesel and hybrid engines. EVs cornered 54% of the market, an increase over their 42% share in 2019. The rapid ascent of the sale of EV models is illustrated by the comparable statistic in 2010: a mere 1% of total sales.

Norway aims to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2025 and to fuel (sorry!) this ambition, the country exempts fully electric vehicles from the taxes imposed on their fossil fuel-powered counterparts. This policy is augmented by investment in infrastructure allowing easy access to charging points.

Norway’s determination to continue their incentives for zero-emission cars has the approval of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Given that Norway is a non-member of the EU, the UK government would be well-advised to incorporate elements of the Nordic nation’s enlightened policies into their own post-Brexit plans.

Now that the Brexit trade deal has been ratified, some of the fine print may cause consternation in the EV sector. For the moment, UK-based car manufacturers will continue to be allowed to include up to 70% of materials from countries outside the EU or UK in their batteries free from trade tariffs. This will change in 2024, however, when a 50% limit is imposed and the onus will be on UK-based production of batteries.

Plans are afoot for home-based production of lithium-ion batteries to begin close to that 2024 date in the North-East and, on a smaller scale, Cornwall but this nascent industry needs all the backing it can get to truly establish itself as a significant part of the economy.


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