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SMMT says urgent action is required on grants and infrastructure to boost electric trucks

The number of vehicles on UK roads reached a record high in 2023, driven partly by rising sales of plug-ins and falling scrappage rates.

There were 41,404,589 cars, vans, trucks, and buses in use the end of the year, a 1.7% increase on 2022, according to Motorparc data published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders over the weekend.

Total cars on the road rose by 1.6% or 546,800 units to 35,694,845, after almost half a million new battery electric (BEV) and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) vehicles were registered. The number of BEVs in use increased by almost half (47.3%) compared with 2022, meaning they now account for 2.7% of all cars in use, up from just 1.9% in 2022.

The SMMT says that with the industry largely recovered from supply chain challenges that had limited deliveries in the aftermath of the pandemic, manufacturers were able to respond to pent-up demand. It says that scrappage rates of older vehicles have also fallen to the lowest on record with British motorists keeping their cars for longer. The average car on the road is now nine years old – a year more than in 2019.

But despite this, the average car CO2 dropped by 2.1%, with company car emissions plummeting by 11.5%, thanks to fiscal incentives encouraging fleets to invest in EVs and manufacturer investment in new lower and zero emission models.

Record numbers of commercial vehicles are now in use, with 625,873 heavy goods vehicles and 5,012,632 vans in operation, up by 1.7% and 2.6%, respectively. BEV van volumes rose by 43.5% on 2022 to 61,161, meaning 1.2% of vans on UK roads are now zero emission.

The number of electric buses in operation grew by 159.4% to 1,922 units, making the UK Europe’s biggest market for zero emission buses and coaches. 

Electric HGVs rose 146.4% in 2023, although at just 0.4% of the fleet, the SMMT says that “urgent action is required on grants and infrastructure” to boost that market.

Also, while overall EV use continues to grow, with 1,602,334 plug-in cars, vans trucks and buses in operation, public chargepoint rollout is still lagging. The SMMT says there is just one standard public charger for every 35 plug-in cars on the road. 

“After two challenging years of constrained supply, more people and businesses across the UK are now getting back behind the wheel – and increasingly, opting for greener options,” said Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive. “However, given the ageing fleet, we now need to encourage consumers and businesses who have deferred purchases of new cars, vans, trucks and buses to upgrade.