UK sales of electric cars surpass diesel for the first time

Sales of new electric cars overtook diesel models in the UK for the first time in 2022, but overall new car sales fell to their lowest level in three decades, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

Global supply chain disruption – ranging from ongoing semiconductor shortages to Covid-related shutdowns of Chinese plants – left automakers unable to meet demand, resulting in the worst year for UK sales since 1992.

According to SMMT annual figures released on Thursday, around 1.61 million cars were registered in the UK last year, down 2 per cent from 2021 and even down from the 1.63 million in 2020 when the industry was forced to shut down during the pandemic.

British automakers “never fully recovered from the impact of the 2020 pandemic,” said Mike Hawes, chief executive of SMMT.

“The manufacturers are really struggling to produce the vehicles in the required quantity,” he added. “The complexity of global manufacturing has impacted the industry over the last year.”

Electric car sales rose by more than a quarter in 2022, accounting for 16.6 percent of sales, while diesel demand fell to less than 10 percent. Battery electric “is now the second most popular powertrain among UK new car buyers, displacing diesel for the first time,” said Hawes.

Diesel once accounted for more than half of UK car sales, but after the Volkswagen emissions scandal of 2015 – in which the automaker fitted vehicles with software that gave misleading results for diesel emissions tests – and with the introduction of regulations in cities such as London, it has fallen like London, which explicitly penalize diesel vehicles.

But Hawes said diesel is still “hard to beat” for drivers who regularly drive long distances.

Petrol cars remained the most popular option for UK buyers last year, accounting for more than half of sales. Hybrid models accounted for 11.6 percent of the market and plug-in hybrids that can charge 6.3 percent.

Electric vehicles “still make up less than 2 percent of vehicles on the road, so there’s still a long way to go before we decarbonize road transport,” Hawes added, although one in three new cars sold in December were all-electric, a figure inflated by a late delivery of Teslas from China later in the month.

New rules will come into effect next year that will require a percentage of every automaker’s sales to come from zero-emission vehicles. The values ​​should start at 22 percent in 2024 and increase to 100 percent by 2030.

But regulations setting out precise definitions for the targets — such as whether hybrid models count and whether automakers that don’t have enough electric models on offer can partner with others to meet the targets — have been delayed until at least the summer.

Hawes said the industry needs “clarification first of all” so manufacturers can make adjustments to comply. He’s also repeatedly called for more charging infrastructure, which he says is still deterring some motorists from switching to electric.

The SMMT expects overall sales to rise about 15 percent this year as manufacturers are able to make more cars for customers on their waiting lists, despite the deteriorating general economic outlook.

Long delays, with motorists waiting months or even more than a year for some models, will provide the industry with a “cushion” against falling aggregate demand, he added.

Changes to China’s Covid-19 guidelines are likely to mean fewer unexpected factory closures and are among “signs that things are easing,” Hawes said. “After three difficult years, we hope for a year of recovery.” UK sales of electric cars surpass diesel for the first time

Adam Bradshaw

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