Electric car sales UK: market up 78% year-on-year

New-car registrations continue to recover, with electric and plug-in hybrid market share growing year-on-year

Vauxhall Corsa-e

The new-car market continued to show signs of strong growth in August, with electric vehicles (EVs) boasting a market share of 6.4% (5,589 models) – a 77.6% increase on the same month last year. That means EVs now account for 4.9% (44,708) of all cars registered year-to-date – up from just 1.1% during the same period in 2019.

Registrations of plug-in hybrid models showed good growth, too, with August market share up from 1% in 2019 to 3.3% (29,877 cars) in 2020 – an increase of 221% year-on-year. Hybrid car registrations grew in August, typically one of the slowest months for new-car sales, although the figures for these models are down 5.1% year-to-date.

While the Tesla Model 3 sold strongly through lockdown, it has since fallen out of the top 10, with more mainstream models returning to form. The Vauxhall Corsa (now available in pure-electric Corsa-e guise) took the top spot in July, but slipped to fifth last month. The Ford Fiesta was the best-selling car in August.

Other models in the top 10 also available with electric or hybrid powertrains include the Mercedes A-Class (sixth), Ford Kuga (ninth) and Kia Niro (10th). The Volkswagen Golf (second) will soon be available as a plug-in hybrid GTE model.

The Corsa, Golf and A-Class all feature in the year-to-date best-sellers, too, alongside the MINI Hatch (now available as a pure-electric model) and Toyota Yaris (hybrid). Again, the Fiesta is the best-selling model overall.

Despite the UK car market beginning to recover from the coronavirus-enforced shutdown, registration numbers overall were still down nearly 6% in August versus the same month last year. Year-to-date the market was down 39.7% – equivalent to around 600,000 cars.

Back in April, the SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) revised its outlook for car sales in 2020 as a whole; it now expects just 1.68 million new cars to be registered this year, of which 915,615 have been sold year-to-date. If this rings true, these numbers would be the lowest annual figures seen since 1992.

Mike Hawes, the SMMT's chief executive said at the time: "A strong new-car market supports a healthy economy and as Britain starts to plan for recovery, we need car retail to be in the vanguard. Safely restarting this most critical sector and revitalising what will, inevitably, be subdued demand will be key to unlocking manufacturing and accelerating the UK’s economic regeneration."

The UK hybrid and electric-car market in 2019

Electric-car sales shot up by 220% in December 2019, ensuring that battery-electric vehicle registrations ended the year with a record 1.6% share of the overall market. A total of 37,850 electric vehicles joined the UK’s roads last year, up from 15,510 in 2018. This was despite total car sales – which are still dominated by petrols and diesels – falling by 2.4% over the 12 months of 2019.

Elsewhere, plug-in hybrid registrations rose for the second month in succession in December 2019, with 21.8% more PHEVs sold then compared to December 2018. Total sales for the year remained significantly down, however, with 17.8% fewer plug-in hybrids being registered compared with 2018. Battery-electric vehicles now represent a larger proportion of the new car market than plug-in hybrids.

Sales of petrol-electric mild-hybrids increased on 2018 levels: 26,316 sales represents a 172.1% increase, although that number is dwarfed by the 740.5% increase achieved by diesel-electric hybrids.

The most popular fully-electric car was the Tesla Model 3, though part of this is due to pent up demand for a car that only launched in 2019. The Nissan Leaf was the second best-seller, with the Jaguar I-Pace in third. The most popular plug-in hybrid was the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, followed by the BMW 3 Series and BMW 5 Series. The new LEVC taxi made the list, too, sandwiched between the MINI Countryman hybrid and Volvo XC90 in sixth place.

While the overall market share for electric and hybrid cars remained low, demand for these models was rising at a rapid rate: Kia boosted supply of its popular e-Niro SUV in order to clear its lengthy waiting list.