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New UK EV Record — Almost Quarter Of Auto Sales Now Plugins!

The UK’s plugin electric vehicle market hit new highs in December 2020, at 23.4% market share, up from 6.6% in December 2019.

The UK’s plugin electric vehicle market hit new highs in December 2020, at 23.4% market share, up from 6.6% in December 2019. The Tesla Model 3 was the UK’s best selling auto of any kind in December, with 5,798 vehicles delivered. 2020’s overall plugin volumes grew 2.4× over 2019, despite the UK auto market being down almost 30% in volume.

December’s combined plugin share of 23.4% was strongly weighted towards pure battery electric vehicles (BEVs), at 16.5%, with plugin hybrids (PHEVs) contributing 6.9%. The full year contributions were more evenly weighted, with BEVs at 6.6% and PHEVs at 4.1%, for a 2020 total of 10.7% plugin share. This is up 3.5× from the 3.1% plugin share of full year 2019.

In terms of volumes, the overall UK auto market saw 1.63 million sales in 2020, down 29.4% over 2019’s 2.31 million sales. However, plugin electric vehicles increased from 2019’s 72,834 sales to 175,082 in 2020, a growth of 140% (or 2.4×).

Here’s a view of the monthly evolution in powertrain market share. Note that April and May were bent out of shape by almost entirely collapsed auto sales volumes:

Interestingly, plugless hybrid market share (the blue layer above) has not risen since September–October, whilst PEV share has doubled since then. We may therefore be seeing the plateauing of old-school hybrid technology in the UK, in the shift to plugins. Even plugin hybrids are capable of covering average UK daily driving duties entirely on electric power (which is increasingly derived from renewables), whereas old-school hybrids derive all their power from burning fossil fuels.

We don’t yet have detailed data about the most popular BEV models in December. What we can say for sure is that the Tesla Model 3 was the best selling vehicle of any kind in December. We saw the Model 3 achieve this previously, in April and May, when the rest of the auto market was almost entirely frozen. For a BEV to be the UK’s overall top seller in a relatively normal sales month (volumes just 11% down from December 2019) is a great achievement.

Yet another BEV took the UK’s overall #4 spot in December, the Volkswagen ID.3, with 3,188 sales.

SMMT UK Best Selling Autos / Image Source: SMMT

Based on recent trends, we can say with confidence that the Tesla Model 3 took the UK’s top BEV spot for the full year, with the Nissan LEAF holding onto #2 spot. The third position was likely a close fight between the Renault ZOE and the incoming Volkswagen ID.3, with the Kia Niro not far behind.

Tesla Model 3 / Image: Max Holland

Other popular BEV models in 2020 were (in order); the Jaguar I-Pace, MG ZS, Audi e-tron, and BMW i3, each with at least ~5,000 annual sales.

Note from the SMMT list above, entry into the UK’s 2020 top 10 best sellers required sales of at least 25,000 units. The Tesla Model 3 likely got within just a couple of thousand of this total. Will we see any BEVs entering the overall top 10 list for the first time in 2021?

The UK’s auto industry association, the SMMT, is supportive of the move towards plugin vehicles, saying in early January 2021:

“More than 100 plug-in car models are now available to UK buyers, and manufacturers are scheduled to bring more than 35 to market in 2021 – more than the number of either petrol or diesel new models planned for the year. To increase uptake will require others to match the industry’s commitment to electrification and SMMT will continue to work with government on the detail of a strategy to deliver a successful, rapid transition that benefits all of society and safeguards automotive manufacturing with sufficient battery production capacity.” (UK SMMT)

What are your predictions for the UK’s plugin market share in 2021? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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Max is an anthropologist, social theorist and international political economist, trying to ask questions and encourage critical thinking about social and environmental justice, sustainability and the human condition. He has lived and worked in Europe and Asia, and is currently based in Barcelona. Find Max's book on social theory, follow Max on twitter @Dr_Maximilian and at, or contact him via LinkedIn.


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