Electric car sales UK: Tesla Model 3 tops April as overall sales collapse

Overall UK car sales crashed by 97% in April due to the lockdown; online sales and contactless delivery helped Tesla Model 3 to be best-seller

Tesla Model 3

The UK car market declined by 97.3% in April compared to the same month last year, as sales ground almost completely to a halt due to the government-imposed lockdown closing showrooms all over the country.

Some 4,321 cars were registered in April, however, and the top two sellers for the month were pure-electric cars: the Tesla Model 3 (658 sold) and Jaguar I-Pace (367 sold). The Nissan Leaf was the ninth best-selling car for the month, with 72 units sold, and the strong representation for electric cars in the top 10 helped zero-emissions vehicles take an unprecedented 31.8% share of an admittedly very small market in April, with 1,374 electric cars registered in total.

Sales that did happen in April were partly due to online operations continuing to trade, with finance organised online and 'contactless' delivery options offered. DrivingElectric's sister site Buyacar is currently offering free delivery and warranties on cars sold to key workers. Some dealership workshops are also still open to ensure repairs and maintenance to vehicles used by key workers and essential services can be carried out.

In addition, many manufacturers have upgraded or improved their online sales channels in order to continue selling cars while social-distancing measures remain in effect.

The SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) has now 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 lowest annual figure seen since 1992.

Mike Hawes, the SMMT's chief executive, said, "With the UK’s showrooms closed for the whole of April, the market’s worst performance in living memory is hardly surprising. These figures, however, still make for exceptionally grim reading, not least for the hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on the sector."

Hawes went on to say: "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 remains low, demand for these models is rising at a rapid rate: Kia has recently boosted supply of its popular e-Niro SUV in order to clear its lengthy waiting list.