Electric car sales UK: August 2021 sees electric overtake diesel for market share

August 2021 saw UK new-car registrations continue to suffer from the global semiconductor shortage, but electric models have now outstripped diesels for marker share

Audi Q4 e-tron vs Mercedes EQA

August 2021 saw a 32.2% increase in pure-electric car sales in the UK compared to the same month in 2020. Overall, though, passenger-car sales were 22% down on August 2020, as sales continue to be hit by difficulties in supplying new cars due to the industry-wide shortage of semiconductor chips.

A total of 68,033 new cars were registered in the UK in August 2021. Of those, 7,388 (10.9% of the total) were pure-electric cars, 5,049 (7.4%) were plug-in hybrids, and 8,061 (nearly 12%) were full hybrids. Pure-petrol cars accounted for just over 43% of the month’s total, while mild-hybrid petrols made up 14.3% of total registrations for the month. Diesel and mild-hybrid diesels accounted for the remainder of sales, at 7.5% and 4.9% of the total respectively.

None of the top 10 best sellers in August 2021 were pure-electric models, but the hybrid-only Toyota Yaris was the third-best seller of the month, while the BMW 3 Series, Hyundai Tucson, Vauxhall Corsa, Mercedes-Benz A-Class, which all have hybrid or electric variants, were fifth, sixth, seventh and ninth, while the hybrid-only Toyota Corolla rounded out the top 10.

UK electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid car 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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