For more than two decades, the global chip shortage helped push car registrations to the lowest level.
Although an electric car charges at a petrol station, petrol and diesel pumps are closed. Last month, nearly 33,000 electric cars were registered, almost 50% more than in September 2021, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said.
The number of electric cars sold in the UK last month neared the figures for the whole of 2019, with consumer appetite to switch to cleaner vehicles expected to accelerate due to panic-buying at the petrol pumps.
In a record month for electric vehicles (Evs), nearly33,000 pure electric cars were registered, almost 50% more than last year, as sales of new cars otherwise tumbled to the weakest September total for more than two decades.
The major factor affecting car manufacturers was the global shortage of semiconductors. The shortage led to only 215,312 new cars in total being registered in September 2021, the worst number since 1998, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
From even last September, when Covid-19 restrictions were dampening the buying and selling of cars, numbers were down by nearly 45% compared with the 10-year average before the pandemic.
Normally, September is the second-busiest month of the year for the industry. The headline figures were “desperately disappointing” and further evidence of the impact that the shortage of semiconductors, especially from Asia, was having on the industry, according to Mike Hawes, chief executive of the SMMT.
In a month that ended with fuel supply issues dominating the news, battery-powered cars took a record slice of the new car market as motorists struggled to find petrol or diesel to fill their tanks. About 15% of new cars sold were pure electric, up from 11% in August, with almost 7,000 Tesla Model 3 vehicles alone joining Britain’s roads as the best selling EV.
Analysts said that it was too soon for the impact of the fuel crisis to show up in sales despite long lead times for most EV deliveries. However, Jamie Hamilton, automotive director at Deloitte, commented:
“The inconvenience of long queues and empty pumps has jump-started many motorists to explore the switch to electric.”
After September 24, when news that the shortage of lorry and tanker drivers was affecting forecourt fuel supplies led to widespread panic-buying at the pumps, car retail websites such as Auto Trader reported surging interest in electric cars. James Fairclough, the chief executive of AA Cars, said:
“For those already thinking of going electric, the sight of electric vehicle drivers breezing past long queues at service stations during September’s fuel crisis may have been a clincher.”
Calling on the government to step up investment in charging points Hawes said:
“The rocketing uptake of plug-in vehicles, especially battery-electric cars, demonstrates the increasing demand for these new technologies.”
“However, to meet our collective decarbonization ambitions, we need to ensure all drivers can make the switch – not just those with private driveways – requiring a massive investment in public recharging infrastructure. Charge-point rollout must keep pace with the acceleration in plug-in vehicle registrations.”
Plug-in hybrid cars also increased their share to 6.4%, meaning more than one in five new cars sold in September was designed for zero-emission driving.
With 77% fewer diesel cars sold than a year ago, sales continued their steep decline. Only one in 20 new cars sold in the United Kingdom was a pure diesel powered vehicle last month.
By buying 43% fewer vehicles than a year ago, overall demand for new cars fell most among large fleet buyers in comparison to demand from private buyers which fell by 25% from last September. New car sales so far this year are only 5.9% better than 2021 figures – the worst year for three decades – and down 29% on the pre-pandemic decade-long average.
It could be March next year before there is a real recovery in car sales, according to Seán Kemple, the managing director of Close Brothers Motor Finance. He commented:
“The ongoing chip shortage, compounded by rocketing manufacturing costs, continues to present challenges for dealers, manufacturers, and consumers.”
“Consumer demand is there, but the choice is stifled. Buyers are turning to ‘nearly new’ options, a growing trend where vehicles up to 12 months old are outstripping the price of their new counterparts. The supply chain pressures are unlikely to ease up this side of Christmas and with secondhand vehicles going for premium prices, customers looking for a car are left in an unenviable position.”
Top 10 bestselling battery-electric cars in September 2021
- Tesla Model 3 – 6,879
- Volkswagen ID.3 – 2,056
- Kia Niro – 1,881
- Renault Zoe – 1,337
- Mercedes EQA – 1,325
- Audi e-tron – 1,318
- MG 5 – 1,135
- Nissan Leaf – 1,066
- Hyundai Kona – 1,010
- Peugeot e-208 – 946