Tesla’s Model 3 became the UK’s second best-selling new car last year, signalling the appetite for electric vehicles.
In fact, it was the best year on record for plug-in cars, both battery electrics and plug-in hybrids, with 305,000 registered, accounting for around one in six of all new cars bought.
But overall demand for new cars in the UK increased by just 1 per cent last year despite a surge in electric vehicles, new figures are expected to show.
Around 1.65 million new cars were registered in 2021, compared with 1.63 million the previous year, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said.
The Vauxhall Corsa topped the ranking of new car registrations in 2021, followed by the Tesla Model 3.
2021’s figures are a “bleak picture” and “not what we’d hoped for”, SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said.
He blamed the sector’s failure to mount a stronger recovery from 2020 – its worst year since 1992 – on the global shortage of semiconductors and the impact of the pandemic.
Hawes said: “The first half of the year was in lockdown and, despite online click and collect, and the industry really stepping up to deliver that, it was still a tough start to the year.”
He said things “didn’t improve significantly” in the latter six months “because of shortages in terms of supply.”
“The challenge is, how do you maximise your ability to supply customers when the supply of vehicles is so heavily challenged coming out of factories?”SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes
“We think demand is still there,” he said. “Demand is still strong.”
Hawes described the increased popularity of electric cars as “the one very strong and bright spot on the horizon”.
More battery electric vehicles were registered last year than between 2016 and 2020 combined.
But Mr Hawes stressed the importance of “continued investment” in electric vehicles, saying it “doesn’t help” when cuts are made to Government grants.
The latest reduction, in mid-December, saw the maximum amount of cash motorists can claim towards a plug-in car fall £1,000 to £1,500.
The Department for Transport said the move would let the scheme “help more people”.
Jim Holder, editorial director of magazine and website What Car?, described the semiconductor shortage as “a massive problem for almost all manufacturers, with delivery times pushed to beyond a year for many models”.
He said the strong sales of electric vehicles was “one of the few success stories for the automotive sector” last year, and their rapid uptake is “one trend that we can guarantee to see continue in 2022”.
Sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans will be banned in the UK from 2030.