Growing year-on-year demand for green cars provides the only bright spot in an otherwise worrying outlook for the auto industry
It was the one piece of good news for an auto industry facing unprecedented challenges.
The latest monthly sales data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) confirmed that UK new car registrations fell 34.9 per cent year-on-year in June, as any slim hopes of a strong bounce back from the coronavirus lockdown were dashed.
However, in sharp contrast the number of new registrations for battery electric, plug-in hybrid, and hybrid vehicles actually rose year-on-year, climbing over 73 per cent to 24,470 units. The surge in demand meant the green car segment accounted for a record 23.7per cent of the market in June.
At the same time demand for petrol vehicles fell 39.9 per cent year-on-year and demand for diesels slumped 59.8 per cent.
The performance is obviously shaped by the exceptional circumstances created by the lockdown and subsequent recession, with the SMMT noting that it is difficult to gauge the true level of demand given one in five showrooms in England remained shut for the whole of June, while outlets in Scotland and Wales did not open until July. Moreover, fleet sales plummeted by over 45 per cent as businesses paused purchasing decisions as they undertook spending reviews.
Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, warned that "while it's welcome to see demand rise above the rock-bottom levels we saw during lockdown, this is not a recovery and barely a restart".
"Many of June's registrations could be attributed to customers finally being able to collect their pre-pandemic orders, and appetite for significant spending remains questionable," he added.
This is likely to be particularly true of electric vehicles (EVs), which are currently subject to long waiting lists.
However, at the same time the relatively strong showing for green models suggests they could prove more resilient to the downturn than conventional models, especially given demand was out-performing the market going in to the recession.
The latest figures show demand increasing sharply for all green car categories. Sales of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) rose 262 per cent year-on-year, while the number of plug-in hybrids registered more than doubled. Overall, plug-in models accounted for just under 10 per cent of the market, while the Tesla Model S broke into the list of top 10 sellers, with over 2,500 units registered.
The growth recorded by hybrids and mild hybrids was more modest, but the number of registrations still rose compared to June 2019, in stark contrast to plummeting demand for internal combustion engine models.
The results come in the same week as a new analysis from EV charger provider Andersen predicted that over 350,000 homes will have fitted a home charger by 2025.
Analysis of sales trends by the company concluded that the market was on track to see 362,270 wall boxes installed in UK driveways and garages over the next five years based on current installation rates, adding to the current crop of 120,000.
Confidence is growing that the EV market could weather the worst of the recession, as new models become available, new company car tax rules make EVs more attractive to fleet buyers, and the government mulls further support for the sector.
Jerome Faissat, commercial director of Andersen, said the market appeared to be experiencing a tipping point. "As we move towards a 'new normal' in the wake of the coronavirus, we've seen clear evidence that people want to change their habits so that they can move forward in a way that is more mindful," he said. "Over the past three months, pollution has fallen in our cities and we've enjoyed the cleanest air we've had in decades, and it's inspired many to rethink the way they get around. We're seeing people vote with their feet - as they make the switch to an electric car, bike or scooter."
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