Second worst since 1992: 2021 new car sales lag behind pre-pandemic era, but electrified vehicles continue to spark

Published:  06 January, 2022

New car sales in 2021 were up 1% on 2020, but still 28.7% down on 2019 showing the ongoing impact of the pandemic on new car sales, in what was the second worst year for new car sales since 1992.

However, while the figures, released today (Thursday 6 January) by the SMMT show relatively low sales, they do illustrate the changing make-up of the car-parc. Electrified vehicles made up 27.5% of sales. Within the mix, 190,727 new battery electric vehicles were sold during the year, which was more than all of the previous five years put together. This represented 11.6% of the total for the year. 114,554 plug-in hybrids (PHEVS) were sold too, which equated to 18.5% of new cars sold during the year are able to be plugged in. Another 8.9% of cars sold were hybrid electric vehicles.

Despite the growth, internal combustion engine vehicles continue to make up the majority. 58.3% of vehicles sold were petrol vehicles, with diesels representing 14.2%. Both groupings included mild hybrids (MHEVs) though.

Commenting on the full-year sales figures for 2021, SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes said: “It’s been another desperately disappointing year for the car industry as Covid continues to cast a pall over any recovery. Manufacturers continue to battle myriad challenges, with tougher trading arrangements, accelerating technology shifts and, above all, the global semiconductor shortage which is decimating supply.

“Despite the challenges, the undeniable bright spot is the growth in electric car uptake. A record-breaking year for the cleanest, greenest vehicles is testament to the investment made by the industry over the past decade and the inherent attractiveness of the technology. The models are there, with two of every five new car models now able to be plugged in, drivers have the widest choice ever and industry is working hard to overcome Covid-related supply constraints.”

Mike added: “The biggest obstacle to our shared net zero ambitions is not product availability, however, but cost and charging infrastructure. Recent cuts to incentives and home charging grants should be reversed and we need to boost the roll out of public on-street charging with mandated targets, providing every driver, wherever they live, with the assurance they can charge where they want and when they want.”

On the growth of EV sales NFDA Chief Executive Sue Robinson said: “It is encouraging that sales of electric vehicles experienced significant growth in 2021, driven by the growing range of models available. However, it is important that the transition to zero emissions continues to be supported by investments in the charging infrastructure and financial incentives for EV buyers. As a result, the recent cut to the plug-in grant was disappointing.”

According to James Fairclough, CEO at AA Cars, ongoing supply issues on new cars of all types is pushing buyers towards the used car market: “Forecourts remain busy, but there’s no escaping the fact that insufficient supply of new vehicles is limiting the number of sales dealers can make. Customers placing an order often face a wait time of several weeks to get their vehicle. In some cases, dealers don't even have enough stock to be able to offer prospective buyers a test drive. That’s why thousands of would-be new car buyers are focusing on the second-hand market instead, where availability is significantly better.”

James concluded: “Separate data from the SMMT shows that the number of new vehicles rolling off UK production lines has fallen for five months in a row. In November it was 28.7% down on the same time in 2020, its worst November performance for three and half decades. With car factories in other countries similarly hit by the global shortage of semiconductors, the supply of new vehicles for sale may not catch up with buyer demand for several months to come.”

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