UK January EV Share At 13.7% — Up Over 2× Year-On-Year

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The UK saw plugin electric vehicles taking 13.7% market share in January 2021, up 2.3× from January 2020, and already well above the 10.7% annual share of 2020. The overall auto market was down almost 40% from January 2020’s pre-COVID volumes, due to showroom lockdowns.

January’s 13.7% combined plugin result comprised an even split between full battery electrics (BEVs) and plugin hybrids (PHEVs), which is a swing towards PHEVs from 2020’s average weightings (BEV 62:38 PHEV).

January is almost always the UK’s lowest plugin score of the year and sets a baseline for typically gradually growth in H1, and a notable uptick from August onwards. With a UK baseline of 13.7% already in January, 2021 is well set.

In the context of lacklustre overall auto sales, petrol-only combustion sales were down in volume by 50.6% year-on-year, and diesel-only combustion sales suffered a huge 62.1% drop.

Which BEV Models Are Popular In The UK?

We don’t yet have a clear picture of January’s most popular BEV models, apart from a few deductions from limited data, across a few sources.  First let’s remind ourselves of 2020’s most popular models. The Tesla Model 3 scored UK 2020’s highest BEV sales with right around 23,000 units delivered (and almost making it onto the year’s overall top 10 autos list).

Tesla Model 3 / Image Courtesy: Tesla

In the #2 spot in 2020 was the Nissan LEAF with an estimated 8,500 to 9,000 sales, followed closely by the Jaguar I-Pace, Kia Niro and Renault ZOE, all jostling for position at right around 7,000 sales each (estimated).

Other popular BEVs in 2020 were (in descending order); the Audi e-tron, MG ZS, BMW i3, Hyundai Kona, and Volkswagen ID.3, all with volumes in the 4,000 to 6,500 range. The still-ramping VW ID.3 scored a massive 3,188 UK registrations in December alone, easily taking the month’s #2 BEV spot (and #4 overall auto spot).

Volkswagen ID.3 / Image Courtesy: Volkswagen

As for January 2021’s popular models, from the brand sales data of the UK industry body the SMMT, we can deduce that last year’s winner, the Tesla Model 3 didn’t show up in significant volume in January (not more than 600 units at most), which is normal given Tesla’s quarterly shipping pattern.

The top BEV spot was therefore likely a duel between the Nissan LEAF (averaging 725 monthly units in 2020) and the VW ID.3, which showed itself capable of extreme volumes in December. Depending on monthly supply fluctuations, Jaguar I-Pace, Kia Niro and Renault ZOE may also have been in the running for the BEV top spot in January. We will also see the incoming Volkswagen ID.4 start to figure in the BEV rankings in the coming months. The best open access source for UK BEV model data (although 2+ months delayed) is the EU’s EAFO website.

CO2 Targets And 2021 Outlook

The UK SMMT noted that 2020’s vehicle average CO2 emissions fell by 11.8% over 2019’s average, to 112.8 g/km. However, according to the SMMT, average emissions need to fall again this year to a target of 95 g/km, requiring a further 15.8% drop:

UK vehicle average CO2 emissions, with 2021 target / Source image courtesy of UK SMMT

Due to this emissions target, we can expect another plugin vehicle surge in the UK market in 2021, following the breakout progress seen in 2020. Recall also that in mid November the UK set a 2030 date for the ban of new combustion vehicle sales, which will give further impetus to the transition in 2021.

Although it’s too early to make strong predictions just off the back of January’s result, even in a decent growth year, January is almost always a significant drop off from December’s result (but the share typically stands up again by April or May). January’s 13.7% share following from December’s 23.4% share is therefore within the normal UK pattern, and not a sign of overall regression. It gives a strong baseline to build upon in 2021.

August usually brings a notable uptick in the UK’s plugin share, and the magnitude of that uptick usually serves as a reliable guide as to the rate of growth in the rest of the year. What’s your guess as to the evolution of UK plugin market share this year? With 13.7% already achieved, I’d be surprised if the 2021 average annual share doesn’t get close to 20% or higher, with peak months reaching to 30%. Please share your own estimates and other thoughts in the comments.

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Dr. Maximilian Holland

Max is an anthropologist, social theorist and international political economist, trying to ask questions and encourage critical thinking. 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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