Electric car sales UK: Tesla Model 3 drops from top 10 in July

New-car registrations continue to recover, with best July since 2016; electric and plug-in hybrid market share is growing

Tesla Model 3

The UK car market continues to show signs of a strong recovery, with official figures showing the best July figures since 2016. Registrations were up 11.3% on the same month last year – although the market remains almost 42% down 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, with the evergreen Ford Fiesta sitting in second.

Other models in the top 10 also available with electric or hybrid powertrains include the Mercedes A-Class (fifth), the MINI Hatch (eighth) and the Ford Kuga (10th). The Corsa, A-Class and MINI all feature in the year-to-date best-sellers, too. 

The UK car market began to recover from the coronavirus-enforced shutdown in June, but registration numbers overall were still down nearly 35% on the same month last year. Year-to-date the market was down 48.5%.

Things picked up strongly in July – especially for ‘alternative fuel’ vehicles, with plug-in hybrids showing the biggest percentage increase. PHEV registrations were up 320.3% year-on-year, while pure-electric vehicles jumped 259.4%. Even conventional hybrid cars saw a 64.9% increase year-on-year.

The numbers mean that electric cars now have a 4.7% market share (39,119 cars) so far in 2020, with plug-in hybrids accounting for 3.3% (26,955) of all models sold. Petrol cars still account for the vast majority of new car registrations, however, with a 59.6% (494,000) share of the market.

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, which would be the lowest annual figure 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.