Electric car sales UK: market remains below average but electric and hybrid growth continues

March 2021 saw UK new-car registrations at a higher level than March 2020, but still well down on the average for previous years

ID.3 vs Leaf

March 2021 saw the UK new-car market register year-on-year growth for the first time since August 2020. However, the 11.5% increase on March 2020's figure paints an overly positive picture, as that month saw the start of the first lockdown in the country. Compared to the 10-year average for past March registration figures, the total is nearly 37% down.

A total of 29,280 cars were registered in March 2021; 22,003, or 7.7%, were purely electric. There were 17,330 plug-in hybrids registered (6.1% of the total) and 21,599 non-plug-in hybrids (7.6% of the total). Year-to-date, pure-electric-car sales are up 74.1% on the first three months of 2020, while the corresponding figure for plug-in hybrids is 93.6%, and for non-plug-in hybrids, 11.6%.

The top 10 best-sellers list for March 2021 saw the Vauxhall Corsa leading the Ford Fiesta, Mercedes A-Class and electric-only Tesla Model 3 (below). The Nissan Qashqai, BMW 3 Series and Volkswagen Golf held fifth, sixth and seventh positions, while the Toyota Yaris, Ford Puma and MINI hatchback rounded out the top 10.

Electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid registrations in 2020

UK new-car registrations dropped to their lowest level since 1992 in 2020. Overall sales figures show a 29.4% decrease in new-car registrations year-on-year, but the good news is that electric and plug-in hybrid cars made up a larger proportion of cars sold than ever before.

Pure-electric sales were up by 185.9% versus 2019, while plug-in hybrid sales were up 91.2%. The total share of the new-car market taken by pure-electric cars in 2020 was 6.6%, with 108,205 electric cars sold; plug-in hybrids had a 4.1% market share, with 66,877 new registrations.

A number of electric models found their way into the list of top sellers in December 2020, which bodes well for the segment going into 2021. The Tesla Model 3 sold strongly through lockdown and was the best-selling car in December, followed by the Volkswagen ID.3 in fourth place.

The Vauxhall Corsa (now available in pure-electric Corsa-e guise) sold strongly all year and came second overall for 2020 – although the bulk of these will have been conventionally powered. Other models in the overall top 10 for 2020 also available with electric or hybrid powertrains include the Mercedes A-Class (fifth) and Volvo XC40 (10th). The Volkswagen Golf (third) is now available as a plug-in hybrid GTE model.

Elsewhere, pure-hybrid cars still saw a rise in sales despite a general move towards plug-in variants by most manufacturers. Total sales were 100,117, versus 98,237 in 2019 – a 12.1% increase. This seems a modest increase when compared to the plug-in hybrid figure, however.

For context, diesel-car registrations fell by a staggering 55% year-on-year, while petrol cars dropped by 39%. However, these figures don't take into account the industry's move to mild-hybrid (MHEV) technology: MHEV diesels saw a 79.6% increase in registrations, while petrol mild-hybrid variants saw a 184.1% increase.  

Despite some brief signs that the UK car market was beginning to recover from coronavirus-enforced shutdowns, car registration numbers overall were down 29.4% by the end of 2020 – that's 680,076 fewer cars than last year.

Most Popular

Best plug-in hybrid SUVs 2021
DS 7 Crossback E-TENSE
Best cars

Best plug-in hybrid SUVs 2021

A good plug-in hybrid SUV should combine low running costs with excellent practicality. These are some of the best on sale right now
8 Apr 2021
Best electric SUVs 2021
Kia e-Niro
Best cars

Best electric SUVs 2021

Our selection of the best electric SUVs you can buy features cars that promise to mix style, practicality and rock-bottom running costs
8 Apr 2021
Longest range electric cars 2021
Polestar 2 vs Tesla Model 3
Best cars

Longest range electric cars 2021

The range of electric cars is continually improving. Here are the top 10 models with the longest range on a single charge
8 Apr 2021