Tipping point: Alternative fuels outsell diesels

16/09/2020
Dominic Browne

For the first time in the modern era, alternative fuel cars have outsold diesels.

While the UK car market is still reeling from the impact of the lockdown on dealership sales, there are signs the rise of electric vehicles and other alternative fuels could boost the recovery.

The strong growth in alternative fuel cars in recent years was interrupted by the impact of the coronavirus, with the first year-on-year decline in a quarter since 2011. Registrations were down 13% in the second quarter, compared to the previous year.

However, government figures show that after racking up a total of 33,000 new vehicles, 'more new alternative fuel cars were registered than new diesel cars for the first time in modern times'.

The fall of 13% is also mild compared to the 81% decrease in the number of diesel cars registered this quarter compared to the same period last year, and the 72% drop in petrol cars.

Over the four years from 2016 Q2 to 2020 Q2, new diesel car registrations fell 90%.

In 2020 Q2, out of all new alternative fuel car registrations, there were 14,000 hybrid electric, 13,000 battery electric, 6,000 plug-in hybrid electric (PHEVs), and less than one hundred using other alternative fuel types.

The market does appear to be shifting away from hybrids though. The number of battery electric cars registered for the first time in 2020 Q2 doubled (up 103%) compared to 2019 Q2, while the number of hybrid electric cars declined by 42% in 2020 Q2 compared to 2019 Q2, with a decline of 12% for plug-in hybrid electric cars.

According to the latest official figures, 242,000 vehicles were registered for the first time in Great Britain during the second quarter of 2020, 67% fewer than during the same period last year.

Ultra-low emission vehicle (ULEV) sales were remarkably robust in recent months. During the second quarter of this year, 18,968 (ULEVs) were registered for the first time in Great Britain, an increase of 30% on 2019 Q2.

ULEVs made up 7.8% of all new registrations, up from 2.0% in 2019 Q2.

The massive drop in overall sales was unsurprising as during the UK lockdown vehicle dealerships and showrooms were required to close but here have already been signs of the market bouncing back.

Monthly new registrations were down 94% in April this year compared to 2019 and 85% down in May, but by June the number of new registrations was much higher and only 33% lower than in June 2019.

Once again, ULEVs helped boost market growth with large increases during June (up 145%) and July (up 250%) compared with the same months in 2019.

June accounted for 80% of the new registrations in the quarter, with May accounting for 15% and the remaining 5% occurring during April.

At the end of June 2020, there were 38.4 million licensed vehicles in Great Britain, a decrease of 0.9% compared to the end of June 2019.

Only in 1991, has the market seen the recent annual declines in licensed vehicles since the end of the Second World War.

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