New data have shown that 2021 was a record year for sales of electric vehicles (EVs) in the UK, while sales of new petrol and diesel cars flatlined after a disastrous 2020.

According to the figures released today by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), UK consumers registered more battery electric vehicles (BEVs) in 2021 than in the previous five years combined.

Meanwhile, new registrations of petrol and diesel cars increased just 1% in 2021 to 1.65 million, which is the second worst year (after 2020) for new cars since 1992.

Moreover, despite the low baseline of 2020, this means that the rate of new car registration in the UK is still down by more than 28% below its pre-pandemic level.

Mike Hawes, CEO of SMMT, said: “It’s been another desperately disappointing year for the car industry, as COVID-19 continues to cast a pall over any recovery. 

“Manufacturers continue to battle myriad challenges, with tougher trading arrangements, accelerating technology shifts and, above all, the global semiconductor shortage, which is decimating supply.”

Source: SMMT

But the SMMT’s data on EV registrations in 2021 does offer something for automakers to be cheerful about.

Over 190.000 new BEVs joined Britain’s roads in 2021, along with over 114,000 plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), meaning that 18.5% of all new cars registered in 2021 can be plugged in.

This is in addition to the more than 147,000 hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) registered, which took a further 8.9% market share in a bumper year for electrified car registrations, with 27.5% of the total market now electrified in some form.

Fortifying the EV market

In response, auto industry representatives have called for increased incentives for consumers to go electric, and for mandated charging points, to ensure that the UK remains competitive against foreign EV markets.

“The biggest obstacle to our shared net zero ambitions is not product availability but cost and charging infrastructure,” said Hawes.

“Recent cuts to incentives and home charging grants should be reversed, and we need to boost the roll out of public on-street charging with mandated targets, providing every driver, wherever they live, with the assurance they can charge where they want and when they want.”

In 2021 the UK was the third largest European market for new car registrations, but the second largest by volume for plug-in vehicles and the second largest for BEVs.

It came in at ninth in Europe for BEVs by market share, however, despite its ambitious target to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.

The SMMT noted that the slow pace of growth in on-street public charging in the UK could stifle EV demand and undermine the UK’s attractiveness as a place to sell electric cars.

On average, the SMMT said that, in the UK, one standard on-street charger is shared by 16 EVs.