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UK Hits 13.9% Plugin Share In March – Up Almost 2x Year-On-Year

The UK auto market saw plugin electric vehicles take 13.9% share in March 2021, nearly double the 7.27% share of March 2020. Plugin volumes were up 112% year-on-year, against the backdrop of overall auto volumes growing 11.5%. Non-hybridized diesel combustion engines continued their steep decline, to just 10.8% share, from 17.6% a year ago, though quick-fix mild-hybrid diesels captured around half of that decline.

March’s 13.9% plugin share saw full battery electric vehicles (BEVs) contribute 7.8% and plugin hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), at 6.1%, which is a relative share-of-duty roughly in line with 2020’s average (6.6% BEV and 4.1% PHEV).

Cumulative share over Q1 2021 now stands at 13.7%, up considerably from the 6.6% seen in Q1 2020. Here’s the last 16 months’ evolution of powertrain shares:

Note that – on a multi-year trend – March is actually usually a low ebb for plugin market share, since conventional auto dealers try to push a high volume of sales based on the twice-yearly “new license plates”.  The plugin share trend ticks up again in April or May. Given that March 2021 is already at 13.9%, this bodes well for the coming months.

Diesel share (the red band on the above graph) is getting ever closer to dropping below 10%.

The mild/hybrids category (blue band) might appear to be growing fast, but this growth is short-term. Standard hybrids are slowly growing (25% up in share YoY) and a only make up 41% of this category, and 7.6% of all auto sales. The category growth is actually coming from “mild hybrids” which have exploded from 5.3% of the total auto market in December 2019 to 19.3% last month, not far off 3x the share of traditional hybrids.

These mild hybrids employ the quick-fix of adding a 48-volt starter motor to an otherwise vanilla combustion powertrain to modestly improve efficiency and carbon emissions in stop-start urban driving cycles.

Mild hybridization is not a long term solution to emissions, since all power still comes from fossil fuels, it’s more of a band aid to slightly extend the waning acceptance (societal and regulatory) of combustion engines. We can expect all vanilla combustion powertrain vehicles to quickly be patched with this “minimal electrification” band aid in the next few years, but then quickly be replaced by plugins, which can run mostly or entirely on zero-carbon renewable energy. Eventually the market will be almost entirely full electric BEVs.

Popular Plugin Models

As usual, we have very thin up-to-date numbers from the SMMT on popular plugin models in the UK. Worth noting is that several of the top 10 best selling autos now have plugin variants (table below).

The Tesla Model 3, thanks to its usual end-of-quarter push, did get in to the top 10 overall autos in March, at #4 spot. Its total volume over the first quarter – of around 7,300 – should have put it at a respectable #11 spot on the overall best sellers list for the year so far, a good result.


SMMT UK Best Selling Autos / Image Source: SMMT


The strong March result for the Tesla Model 3 came despite the UK government lowering the cut-off price point for BEV grants on March 18th (“effective immediately”), down from £50,000 to £35,000, effectively thereafter excluding all variants of the Model 3 (as well as many other BEVs priced in the high 30s and above) from subsidies.

Given the government’s policy of only having a fixed total money pot for grants, the justification given was that limiting the support to more affordable vehicles, the pot of funds would last longer and help those whose budgets don’t stretch beyond £35,000 (and thus are more likely to need help). The grant amount was also reduced from £3,000 to £2,500.

Perhaps Tesla had some prior warning of this abrupt change and managed to front-load their deliveries in March, or perhaps there was some ‘inclusion for those already in-line’ given for vehicles that had already been ordered or had a deposit paid [EDIT: Martyn Lee from the excellent EV news daily podcast told us that Tesla UK stepped up to match the “missing” £2,500 grant for their vehicles priced under £50,000 (the Model 3 SR+ and LR) during the remaining days of March]. Either way, the Model 3’s March #4 spot was a great result, but may not be seen again by a BEV priced above £35,000.

Some manufacturers managed to trim the price of some of their vehicles to stay under the new threshold… perhaps Tesla may be able to do the same at some point.

I’m still expecting the UK’s full year 2021 plugin share to reach close to 20% and for end-of-year peak months to get above 25% share.

What are your predictions? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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