Electric car sales UK: May 2021 figures show beginning of post-Covid recovery

May 2021 saw UK new-car registrations increase by over 674% year-on-year, but totals were still down on pre-pandemic figures

ID.3 vs Leaf

May 2021 saw a 441% increase in pure-electric car sales in the UK compared to the same month in 2020, when dealerships were closed to the public during the first lockdown. However, overall car sales were still 29% down on the 10-year May average for the period preceding the pandemic.

A total of 156,737 new cars were registered in the UK in May 2021. Of those, 13,120 (8.4% of the total) were pure-electric cars, 9,855 (6.3%) were plug-in hybrids, and 13,000 (8.3%) were full hybrids. Pure-petrol cars accounted for 48.4% of last month’s total, but mild-hybrid petrols made up 12% of total registrations for the month.

Diesel and mild-hybrid diesel models accounted for the remainder of sales, at 9.9% and 6.6% respectively. Electrified vehicles also made increases in the year-to-date sales figures, with electric cars accounting 7.5% of total registrations so far in 2021.

None of the cars on the top 10 best-sellers list for May 2021 were pure-electric, but the Vauxhall Corsa (which is available in electric form as the Corsa-e) came in second behind the Volkswagen Golf (available in both eHybrid and GTE plug-in forms). In fourth place was the Mercedes A-Class (below), which is also available as a plug-in hybrid, followed by the Ford Fiesta and Ford Puma in third and fourth place respectively.  Also available as a plug-in hybrid is the Audi A3 (10th).

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.

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