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UK’s Auto Market Hits One-Third Plugins In December

The UK auto market saw plugin electric vehicles take one-third share of the auto market in December, up from 23.4% a year ago. Over a quarter of all auto sales were full battery electric vehicles. Tesla made a large push in December, making the Model 3 the 2nd best selling vehicle (of any powertrain) in 2021. The full year auto market was down almost 30% from pre-pandemic volumes.

December’s combined plugin share of 33.2% comprised 25.5% full battery electrics (BEVs) and 7.7% plugin hybrids. This continues a recent shift in weighting towards BEVs over the whole of 2021. PHEVs have stayed mostly in the 6% to 8% range during 2021, and may have plateaued, for now at least.

The Q4 2021 combined plugin share was 28.1% (19.8% BEV, 8.3% PHEV). This is up from Q4 2020’s combined share of 17.0% (10.7% BEV, 6.3% PHEV).  Notice that BEVs got close to doubling their share over the 12 months.

Full year 2021 plugin share was 18.5% (11.6% BEV, 6.9% PHEV) from 10.7% in 2020 (6.6% BEV, 4.1% PHEV).

Back to December; non-electric-assist diesel continued to drop rapidly, now at under 5% share and fading fast towards near-zero 12 months from now. There are also some mild-hybrid diesels on sale, but these take 3.6% share and are also decreasing.

For those who have been requesting it, here’s the evolution of powertrain sales volumes over the past two years:

The UK’s Most Popular BEV Brands

Following its usual monthly peaks and troughs pattern, Tesla made its single largest European delivery on record to the UK in December, with 9,612 units of the Model 3 going to new owners.

This huge end-of-quarter push also made the Model 3 the UK’s highest selling vehicle in December, and the 2nd highest in 2021 overall, 15% behind the Vauxhall (Opel) Corsa.

Here’s the December brand share for BEVs, with Tesla obviously way out in front:

Given Tesla’s peaks-and-troughs, it’s of course more objective to look at the trailing 3 month brand share. Here Tesla is “only” 2.5x the volume of its nearest brand competitor, Volkswagen:

If we look at manufacturing groups, the market is much closer, with Tesla still a step ahead of Volkswagen Group.

Since 2021 has just closed out, the UK industry body, the SMMT has — for the first time — tallied up the top 10 bestselling BEV models for the full year:

SMMT 2021 Best Selling BEVs / Image: SMMT

Just outside the top 10, but also selling in multiple thousands throughout 2021, are the Volkswagen ID.4, the Audi Q4 e-tron, the Polestar 2, Hyundai Ioniq 5, Peugeot e-208 and several others. Overall, it’s good to see growing strength-in-depth of diverse BEV models that appeal to UK car buyers. Tesla, as well as being compelling vehicles with an unmatched charging experience, is heavily dominating the UK largely for a fairly simple reason. Tesla is producing and making available BEVs in relatively huge volumes, whereas the others are only slowly ramping up their volumes. The demand potential is there for a diversity of BEVs if only they are made available in sufficient volumes.

Outlook

Although the UK government has steadily cut the purchase incentive for BEVs in half over the course of 2021 (from £3,000 down to £1,500) and reduced the qualifying price ceiling, it will last another couple of years at least, and there are still attractive company-car tax benefits for BEVs in play for several more years. Despite incentives being lower than in many other European nations, consumer demand for BEVs is only increasing in the UK.

The path forward from here very much depends on available volume of plugins, and especially BEVs. As I discussed in my recent France report, Europe’s transition is now in the phase of being consumer-demand-led. Even if consumers have to join a long queue for a new BEV (or failing that, a PHEV), they increasingly will prefer to do that than buy a new plugless vehicle.

I can see plugins potentially crossing 50% share in the final peak months of 2022, with BEVs close to 40% of that. Is that too optimistic? Please 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 MaximilianHolland.com, or contact him via LinkedIn.

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