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UK Plugin Vehicle Share Hits 13% In February, Up 2.3× Year-On-Year — Diesels Down 61%

Europe’s third largest auto market, the UK, saw 13% plugin electric vehicle market share in February, up 2.3× from 5.7% a year ago. The overall auto market was down 35.5% year-on-year due to continuing lockdowns, which are currently planned to lift in mid April. Diesel powertrain sales volume fell by over 61% year-on-year and are being overtaken by plugin electrics.

February’s 13.0% plugin share consisted of a fairly even split between full battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plugin hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), at 6.9% and 6.1% respectively. This is slight shift towards PHEVs from 2020’s average share of duty (6.6% BEV and 4.1% PHEV).

February’s 2.3× year-on-year growth in plugin share was a steady continuation of the 2.3× growth seen in January, suggesting some stability to the trajectory this year, though it’s obviously early days yet.

With the overall auto market down in volume 35.5% year-on-year despite plugins being up in volume by 46%, combustion sales took a big hit, especially diesels. A year ago, diesels took almost 22% share at 17,457 units. Last month they took just 13.2% share at a unit volume down a huge 61.3% (6,761 units).

Diesel’s decline last month was not a one off. Over the trailing 3 months, diesel’s share has averaged 12.3% of the market, compared to 21.4% over the same 3 months a year ago. Later this year may see months below 10% for the first time in decades. Recall that new sales of combustion powertrains are due to be phased out in the UK by 2030.

Scant UK BEV Model Data

We don’t have any detailed BEV model results for February, but from the UK SMMT’s basic brand-sales data we have indications that last year’s overwhelming favourite, the Tesla Model 3, has not yet received scheduled deliveries in any significant volume in 2021.

The Polestar brand (all, or nearly all, the Polestar 2) delivered 261 units (over 7.4% of the month’s BEV share), which will have put it close to the top 5 most popular BEVs.

Tesla Model 3.  Image: Tesla

Recent favourite BEVs in the UK market have included the Jaguar I-Pace, and Nissan LEAF, which were the two models closely competing for the #2 and #3 spots in the Tesla’s wake last year (based on trailing EAFO data). The next most popular in 2020 were (in order) the Kia Niro, Renault ZOE, Audi e-tron, and MG ZS, with the late-arriving Volkswagen ID.3 bringing up the rear.

The VW ID.3 will certainly challenge for the UK’s #2 spot in 2021. Although, its larger sibling, the Volkswagen ID.4, due to arrive in the UK after April, may have something to say about it.

Whether either of the VWs can challenge the Tesla Model 3 for the top spot is hard to call. Much will depend on the pricing action. It will also depend on the (perceived) progress of the UK’s independent DC charging infrastructure, which still lags Tesla’s Supercharger network for reliability and convenience, though is quickly improving.

Recall that several of the UK’s overall top selling auto models do have plugin variants that comprise a decent portion of their sales. These include the Vauxhall (Opel) Corsa, the Mercedes A-Class, the Volvo XC40, and the Kia Niro:

UK best selling autos. Image: SMMT

We know that around 20% of the Mercedes A-Class’s sales last year were the PHEV variant, and almost that percentage for the Volvo XC40’s PHEV variant also. The XC40’s full BEV variant will soon join in, and is due to arrive in the UK any day now (it has already spread outside of the Nordics, to Germany). Let us know if you’ve ordered (or already received) one in the UK.

The plugin proportion of model sales may be higher still for the Kia Niro, though a little lower for the Vauxhall (Opel) Corsa.

We also know that in 2020, the Tesla Model 3 was knocking on the door of the UK’s top 10 best selling autos list, and very close to breaking in. Will it make the overall top 10 in 2021? Will the Volkswagen ID.3?

Volkswagen ID.3.  Image: Volkswagen

We’ve now seen the first two months of 2021 achieve a decent and stable UK PEV share (a cumulative 13.4%). 2021 should see UK plugin market share climb to above 20% in the later months of the year, especially since — as we saw last month — the automakers have progress to make on their UK CO2 targets this year, and plenty of new plugin models are arriving for customers to choose from.

European Picture

With the February results now in for the UK, France and Germany, Europe’s big-3 auto markets have already accumulated a combined average of 16.8% plugin share in 2021, well above their combined 12.2% full year share in 2020. Based on recent weighting, this points to the combined European market now passing 15% plugin share (already considerably above the 2020 result of 11%).

What’s your prediction for the UK’s market (and the Europe market) over the rest of this year? Let us know 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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