According to the latest available Department for Transport (DfT) statistics, included in Volkswagen Financial Services UK’s first electric vehicle (EV) tracking report, the UK is currently ahead of the required adoption curve to meet the Government’s 2032 electric vehicle target.
Over the past decade, sales across the electric vehicle fleet, including battery electric vehicles (BEVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), range-extended electric cars and hybrid electric vehicles, have been modest. Sales volumes only started to accelerate from around 2016, according to the DfT.
This increased momentum has intensified over the intervening six years and has further accelerated since the turn of the current decade, with 2021 delivering a significant step-change.
According to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT), sales of electric vehicles over the past year outstripped volume levels for the past five years combined.
As an example, total ultra-low emission vehicle (ULEV) car sales, including both EVs and PHEVs, grew from 348,000 in the third quarter (Q3) of 2020 to 604,000 in the same period in 2021. Electric light commercial vehicle (eLCV) sales jumped from 14,305 in Q3 2020 to 24,967 in Q3 2021.
As an illustration of 2021’s surge in electric vehicle adoption, sales of battery electric cars increased by 154 percent versus the total car market increase of 23 percent.
When assessed in the context of the required sales levels as outlined on the Climate Change Committee adoption curve for 2032, it highlights that the UK was over 60,000 vehicles ahead of the curve at that point.
By way of overall market perspective, the figures demonstrate that the volume of electric cars on UK roads currently account for 2.6 percent of all passenger cars. This is made up of 460,000 BEVs and 384,000 PHEVs against approximately 32 million cars in total.
Whilst the strong sales performance of electric vehicles during 2021 and so far in 2022, the emerging social and economic challenges could impact the burgeoning electric vehicle market in the short term.
A combination of cost-of-living pressures, tax rises, escalating energy costs and global market uncertainty, is denting consumer sentiment and affecting behaviour. The result of this changing scenario for many is that larger discretionary purchases such as a new car may be delayed or even cancelled.
The cost-of-living squeeze will likely mean some potential electric vehicle purchasers may not commit to a switch this year. That said, people may change to leasing options if they want to drive an electric vehicle without the outlay.
Conversely, the impact of rising petrol and diesel prices at the forecourts cannot be discounted. The experience at the pumps may well persuade consumers that the adoption of an electric car sooner rather than later is in their best long-term financial interest.
Mike Todd, Volkswagen Financial Services UK CEO, said: “This first EV tracking report highlights the positive momentum that has, in recent years, seen increasing numbers of drivers switch from combustion engine vehicles to embrace greener, more sustainable transport.
“The startling sales performance witnessed in 2021 is a recognition that for many an EV is the way to go.
“This has resulted in the UK tracking 60,000 vehicles ahead of the necessary adoption curve timescale to meet the Climate Change Committee’s target of 55 percent of all light-duty vehicles being battery powered in 10 years time. This is a vital component of the nation’s net zero ambition.”