One million electric vehicles sold in the UK: milestone passed amid concern over private buyer uptake

Fleet sales continue to drive the EV transition, as private buyers hang on to their petrol and diesel cars

1 million EVs graphic

More than a million battery electric cars have been registered on UK roads, according to the latest information from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

The new car market grew 8.2 per cent in January 2024, with 142,876 registrations, up almost 11,000 units compared to January last year. It’s the strongest industry performance since January 2020, but the rise in new registrations was powered by the fleet and corporate markets, as demand for new cars among private buyers declined by 15.8 per cent. The figures show that fleet registrations accounted for more than 62 per cent of new models on the road in January, which is up from 52.7 per cent for the month in 2023.

The UK has now crept over the one million electric car threshold, with 20,935 battery electric vehicles registered in January - a year-on-year rise of 21 per cent taking the all-time running total to 1,001,677 according to the SMMT figures. However, the January market share of 14.7 per cent for BEVs is down on the 2023 whole-year performance, when BEVs accounted or 16.5 per cent of total registrations.

While the figures look reasonably promising overall, the industry is confronting a worrying trend among private buyers who appear to be losing their appetite for electric cars as the Zero Emissions Mandate begins to bite this year. The ZEV Mandate requires manufacturers to sell 22 per cent of their vehicles with battery power this year, but registrations of BEVs by private buyers fell by 25.1 per cent year-on-year in January. The SMMT now recognises this as an “ongoing trend that will undermine Britain’s ability to reach net zero”.

The trade body says it’s “increasingly clear” that a new package of private buyer incentives is required to re-energise interest in BEV sales. The SMMT is calling on the government to temporarily halve VAT on electric car sales, a move which it says would add another quarter of a million EV registrations to the expected UK tally by 2026, cutting more than five millions tonnes of CO2 from the UK total in the process.

SMMT chief exec Mike Hawes says that while it’s taken 20 years for the UK to reach the million EV milestone, that figure could be doubled in two years with the right incentives in place. “Market growth is currently dependent on businesses and fleets. Government must therefore use the upcoming Budget to support private EV buyers, temporarily halving VAT to cut carbon, drive economic growth and help everyone make the switch. Manufacturers have been asked to supply the vehicles, we now ask government to help consumers buy the vehicles on which net zero depends,” he said.

Do you own an electric car? Tell us about your experience in the comments section...

Current affairs and features editor

Chris covers all aspects of motoring life for Auto Express. Over a long career he has contributed news and car reviews to brands such as Autocar, WhatCar?, PistonHeads, Goodwood and The Motor Trader.

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