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Electric vehicle sales double year-on-year thanks to fleets

Row of Renault Zoe electric cars

Twice as many electric vehicles (EVs) were registered in 2020 compared to the previous year, with new company car tax rates driving uptake.

Analysis of the latest sales data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) by the RAC, shows more than 200,000 pure EVs have now been registered since 2010.

In December alone, 21,914 battery electric vehicles (BEVs) were registered – the highest ever recorded in a single month, beating September’s figure of 21,903.

Overall, there were 108,205 BEVs sold in 2020, significantly more than the 66,879 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) registered during the year.

In terms of non-plug-in mild hybrids, the SMMT data shows that 110,087 cars were registered.

Rod Dennis from the RAC says that there’s still a long way to go, with only a “tiny fraction” of the total 31.2 million cars on the UK’s roads fully zero-emission, but the direction is becoming clear.

“The sight of more electric vehicles on our roads, many sporting number plates with the new ‘trademark’ green flash, might begin to make drivers who are considering changing their car look into whether ‘going electric’ makes sense for them,” he said.

“Issues around charging infrastructure aside, it’s the cold hard economics of buying or leasing a car that might yet hold them back with pure electric cars continuing to command a premium list price over their petrol and diesel equivalents.”

Incentives for fleets and company car drivers, however, have helped drive the record-breaking year for EV registrations, thanks to new benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax rates, introduced last spring.

Most of these registrations for BEVs and PHEVs (68%) were from fleets. 

Gerry Keaney, chief executive of the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA), says that 2020 has been a “tipping point” for EV uptake and demonstrates what can be achieved when Government works closely with fleets to develop a set of powerful grants and tax incentives and invest in a robust public charging network.

“The latest BVRLA data shows that the fleet sector continues to lead the charge towards zero emission motoring, with battery electric vehicles responsible for 21% of company car registrations in the three months to October 2020,” he said.

The growth in EV registrations is impressive, with 6.6% of all new vehicles registered in 2020 being zero-emission, up from just 1.6% in 2019 and 0.7% in 2018.

It means that getting on for a fifth of all cars registered last year (17.5%) were zero-emissions capable – up from just 7.4% in 2019.

Dennis said: “While petrol car registrations will likely recover somewhat in 2021, the question is how many drivers are prepared to switch to an EV at the expense of conventionally fuelled vehicles.

“As the impact of the pandemic continues to be felt the inclination of drivers and businesses to continue acquiring new cars will be critical, as will the effectiveness of dealers in being able to conduct new car sales entirely online during lockdowns. But there is surely little doubt that 2021 will shape up to be a very exciting year for the UK’s electric car market.”

More than 100 plug-in car models are now available, and manufacturers are scheduled to bring more than 35 to market in 2021 – more than the number of either petrol or diesel new models planned for the year.

Poppy Welch, head of Go Ultra Low, believes that in the context of the new car market, 2020 will be remembered as the breakthrough year for EVs. 

"After a ninth successive year of growth in EV registrations, we’ve now seen market share rise to 10.7%," she said. 

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