Electric car sales surge fails to put spark into demand for new motors

Demand for new cars fell by about a quarter last month compared with a year earlier, even as sales of electric vehicles surged.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), which released the preliminary data, also said it expects a total of 1.66 million new cars to be registered in the UK this year. That would represent a 1.9 per cent increase on 2020, which was badly hit by the economic fallout from the pandemic and showroom closures amid lockdowns.

Uptake of plug-in vehicles began to accelerate during 2020 and accounts for more than 16 per cent of all new cars registered in the UK this year.

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The SMMT forecasts that some 287,000 of those vehicles will be registered across the whole of 2021, which would be more than every year combined from 2010 to 2019.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders expects a total of 1.66 million new cars to be registered in the UK this year. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

The organisation's chief executive Mike Hawes said: “Massive investment by industry as well as long-standing government incentives have seen us go from just 188 new plug-in cars in 2010 to almost 300,000 in 2021.

“To achieve net zero by the desired date, however, uptake rates must continue to grow.

“This requires ongoing incentives to help consumers make the switch and significant investment in public charging infrastructure. Backed by the ingenuity and innovation of the automotive sector, we can then deliver zero-emission mobility that is accessible and affordable for all.”

Karen Hilton, chief commercial officer at Heycar, said: “These latest grim figures from the SMMT showing a fall in new car registrations of roughly a quarter versus October last year, with end of year sales forecasted to be only 1.9 per cent higher than 2020 make for sobering reading.

“This is especially worrying when you consider the impact this ongoing absence of new vehicles is having on those who work in the industry. For showroom staff in particular, who rely so heavily on commissions, this has the potential to have the biggest impact.”

Jim Holder, editorial director of magazine and website What Car?, added: “Against the backdrop of COP26, perhaps the most positive message from the October new car registrations is the strong battery electric vehicle performance.”

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