Sales of electric cars nearly doubled last year, accounting for 11.6% of all sales over the year, but charging infrastructure is unevenly spread © FT montage/Dreamstime
A record acceleration of electric car sales in the UK risks being confined to London and the south-east of England without a significant rise in on-street charging across the country, the motor industry trade group has warned.
More electric cars were registered in 2021 than in the entire preceding five years, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, while one in four new cars sold in the UK in December was a battery vehicle.
But while 20 per cent of electric car sales were in London and the South East, Wales and northern England accounted for less than 10 per cent.
Mike Hawes, SMMT’s chief executive, said the provision of on-street charging was “much slower” than the growth of electric car sales, which nearly doubled from 108,000 in 2020 to 191,000 last year, accounting for 11.6 per cent of all sales over the year.
While “early adopters” in the South East were typically wealthier and have driveways, many people without off-road parking need to charge their cars on the street. With electric vehicle sales growing faster than charge point installations, the issue of street charging is going to become key in convincing motorists without driveways to switch to electric vehicles.
“There are concerns that infrastructure is one of the biggest barriers to people considering this type of purchase,” Hawes said. “We need the entire UK motoring population to make this shift. We don’t want this to become a north-south issue.”
He added that the large regional disparities in the availability of street chargers needed to be addressed in the “medium term”. If not, it could deter buyers and hamper the “levelling up” agenda of Boris Johnson, UK prime minister.
London has far more public charging points per person than anywhere else in the UK. According to the latest government figures from October, there are 87 charge points per 100,000 people in the capital, almost double any other region in England. Scotland is second, with 49 per 100,000.
Northern Ireland has the lowest concentration at 18 per 100,000, followed by the North West with 23 and Yorkshire and the Humber with 24.
The UK government wants to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, though some hybrids may be allowed until 2035. But ministers’ decisions to cut the consumer plug-in grant to £1,500 and reduce grants for installing home chargers sends a “confusing message” to motorists, Hawes warned.
“It’s a massive ambition to get the entire market and if you are going to achieve this, you need to use every lever at your disposal,” he said.
The government said it wanted “as many people across the country to have the opportunity to make the switch to electric vehicles”, adding that the grants focused on “more affordable vehicles” to allow “taxpayers’ money to go further”. It said it had provided £1.3bn to support the rollout of charging points across the UK.
Overall, the UK’s new car market suffered its second worst year since 1992, with a rise in sales of just 1 per cent compared with the record lows of 2020, because coronavirus lockdowns exacerbated supply chain problems.
New car registrations in 2021 reached 1.65m, compared with 1.63m the previous year and down from 2.3m in 2019, held back by the industry’s continued shortage of key parts such as semiconductors.
While the SMMT expects sales this year to rise to 1.96m, it warned it may downgrade the forecasts if the Omicron variant causes further international supply disruptions for carmakers.