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Private purchases of EVs were down 25.1% in January

Britain has seen its millionth electric car take to the road - 22 years after the first registration - but sales of electric vehicles to private buyers continue to slide, according to latest registration figures.

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), 20,935 electric cars were registered in January, a rise of 21.0% on the same month in 2023, taking the overall number of registrations since 2002 to 1,001,677. Electric cars accounted for a 14.7% market share in January, an increase on the year before, but below the full 2023 performance of 16.5%.

Overall car registrations for the month were up 8.2% year-on-year, to reach 142,876. Petrol and plug-in hybrids, as well as pure electric cars, all saw sales increase.

The uplift in electric car sales was driven by fleet buyers, with registrations in this category growing by almost 42%. This was helped by lower company car tax rates and the availability of salary sacrifice schemes through employers. Private sales of EVs, meanwhile, fell by just over 25%.

Registrations of plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) grew 31.1% to take 8.4% of the market, while hybrid (HEV) volumes fell 1.2% with a 13.1% share.

The SMMT says volatility in electric vehicle supply was expected and would continue as a result of uncertainty by UK importers around a rules of origin spat with the European Union, which had led to the threat of tariffs on electric vehicles.

Jan Fuel 2024 and YTD cars

The trade association says that the figures illustrate that more needs to be done to incentivise motorists to make the switch to electric. 

Ahead of next month’s Budget, the SMMT is calling for government to support consumers by temporarily halving VAT on new electric vehicle purchases. Such a step would cost the Treasury an average of just £1,125 per car, it says, which is less than the cost of the previous Plug-in Car Grant. Such a move would put more than a quarter of a million electric cars on the road by the end of 2026, on top of those already expected, believes the SMMT, which adds that, as well as cutting harmful emissions it would mean that a million more electric vehicles could be delivered in just two years.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, says: “It’s taken just over 20 years to reach our million EV milestone – but with the right policies, we can double down on that success in just another two.

”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.”