UK car sales hit 6-year low but electric vehicles see surge in demand

UK car sales hit 6-year low but electric vehicles see surge in demand

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New car registrations in the U.K. fell by 2.4% in 2019, new figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show, with demand for new cars at a six-year low, according to the organization’s chief executive.

Overall, there were 2,311,140 registrations last year, compared to 2,367,147 in 2018.

“A third year of decline for the U.K. new car market is a significant concern for industry and the wider economy,” the SMMT’s Mike Hawes said in a statement issued Monday.

“Political and economic uncertainty, and confusing messages on clean air zones have taken their toll on buyer confidence, with demand for new cars at a six-year low,” Hawes added.

While the bigger picture is challenging, one section of the U.K.’s automotive sector is enjoying something of a boom. Battery electric vehicle registrations grew to 37,850 in 2019, an increase of 144% compared to 2018, when 15,510 were registered.

Breaking the SMMT’s figures down, while petrol cars saw registrations grow by 2.2% in 2019, reaching 1,498,640, diesel registrations fell by 21.8% to 583,488.

By contrast, in addition to the 144% growth in battery electric vehicles, hybrid electric vehicle registrations increased by 17.1% to 97,850 units.

Electric vehicles are becoming the car of choice for an increasing number of drivers, but they do face challenges, not least when it comes to perceptions surrounding range and charging infrastructure.

And while these figures will be encouraging to advocates of these types of low emission vehicles, their prevalence in the U.K. is still small compared to petrol and diesel cars.

The market share for battery electric vehicles in 2019 was just 1.6%, while hybrid electric vehicles had a 4.2% share. At the other end of the spectrum, petrol had a market share of 64.8%, while diesel’s share was 25.2%.

The SMMT’s Hawes went on to state that a stalling market would hinder industry’s ability to meet “stringent” new targets on carbon dioxide and also undermine “wider environmental goals.”

“We urgently need more supportive policies: investment in infrastructure; broader measures to encourage uptake of the latest, low and zero emission cars; and long term purchase incentives to put the U.K. at the forefront of this technological shift.”

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