UK new car sales stagnate in September but 33,000 electric cars are sold

Electric cars increase their market share but semiconductor shortage means another gloomy month for the car industry

Tesla Model 3 - front

Fewer new cars were sold in September 2021 than any previous September since 1998, when buyers held-off on their purchases in anticipation of the imminent switch to bi-annual number plate introduction.

215,312 brand new cars found homes last month, which is 34.4 per cent fall on September last year, meaning there’s been a slump on top of a slump. In 2020 weak sales were attributable to the Covid lockdowns, but the latest figure is partly down to the fact that manufacturers can’t secure supplies of essential semiconductors used in vehicles.

September is traditionally one of the busiest months for the new car market, but the latest figure is a whopping 44.7 per cent down on the ten year average pre-pandemic. 

It’s a dismal performance but those looking for a ray of sunshine can at least point to the continuing increase in uptake of electric cars (EVs) as a percentage of the overall market. Nearly 33,000 new battery-powered cars rolled out of showrooms in September, which is 15.2 per cent of the total number of cars sold - and only 5,000 or so cars shy of the total EV market in 2019.

Plug-in hybrid (PHEV) popularity is also increasing, with a monthly market share of 6.4 per cent. The SMMT says that means one in five new cars registered last month is ‘zero-emissions capable’.

Overall, new car registrations to date in 2021 are 29.4 per cent down on the pre-pandemic average, and just 5.9 per cent ahead of the same period last year.

“This is a desperately disappointing September and further evidence of the ongoing impact of the Covid pandemic on the sector,” said Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive. Despite strong demand for new vehicles over the summer, three successive months have been hit by stalled supply due to reduced semiconductor availability, especially from Asia. Nevertheless, manufacturers are taking every measure possible to maintain deliveries and customers can expect attractive offers on a range of new vehicles.

“Despite these challenges, the rocketing uptake of plug-in vehicles, especially battery electric cars, demonstrates the increasing demand for these new technologies. However, to meet our collective decarbonisation ambitions, we need to ensure all drivers can make the switch – not just those with private driveways - requiring a massive investment in public recharging infrastructure. Chargepoint roll-out must keep pace with the acceleration in plug-in vehicle registrations.” 

Thinking of buying an electric, petrol or hybrid car? Read our buying guide to help you along the way...

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