There was an increase of almost three-fold in registrations of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) in March 2020 compared to March 2019 (11,694 in March 2020 v 3,932 in March 2019), with pure EVs now accounting for 4.6% of the market, according to the latest figures from the SMMT.
There was also a growth in plug-in hybrid (PHEV) registrations to 6,818 in March 2020 compared to 4,914 in March 2019.
Interestingly, registrations of hybrid cars fell from 16,429 in March 2019 to 15,265 in March 2020.
However diesel cars were the worst hit, with a massive drop of 61.9%, and petrol cars weren’t that far behind, falling 49.9%.
All this was against the backdrop of an overall decline of 44.4% in the UK new car market in March, as showrooms closed in line with government advice to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
The performance represented a steeper fall than during the 2009 financial crisis and the worst March since the late nineties when the market changed to the bi-annual plate change system. With lockdowns taking place in many European countries earlier than the UK, even more dramatic falls have been reported elsewhere, with Italy down 85%, France 72% and Spain down 69% in March.
In total, 254,684 new cars were registered in the month, with demand from private buyers and larger fleets falling by 40.4% and 47.4% respectively. Meanwhile the numbers of petrol and diesel cars joining the road were down 49.9% and 61.9%.
While many car showrooms are likely to remain closed for the coming weeks, companies are still working to ensure deliveries to critical workers, and the industry is also striving to keep sufficient service and repair workshops open to maintain vehicles which are helping to deliver essential goods and services across the country.
The news comes as SMMT downgrades its interim market outlook for the year to 1.73 million registrations – a 23% decline on the previous outlook made in January and some 25% lower than the 2.31 million units registered in 2019. A further outlook will be published in April to reflect the latest conditions.
Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said, “With the country locked down in crisis mode for a large part of March, this decline will come as no surprise. Despite this being the lowest March since we moved to the bi-annual plate change system, it could have been worse had the significant advanced orders placed for the new 20 plate not been delivered in the early part of the month. We should not, however, draw long term conclusions from these figures other than this being a stark realisation of what happens when economies grind to a halt.
“How long the market remains stalled is uncertain, but it will reopen and the products will be there. In the meantime, we will continue to work with government to do all we can to ensure the thousands of people employed in this sector are ready for work and Britain gets back on the move.”
Despite the challenges, car manufacturers and their retail networks are providing volunteers and diverting resources and funding to help the national effort during the pandemic. Hundreds of vehicles have been deployed in local communities across the UK, helping front-line workers and volunteers in the emergency services, welfare and charity sectors to look after society’s most vulnerable. Other supportive efforts include providing breakdown assistance for NHS workers, converting premises into storage and food bank facilities, supplying personal protective equipment such as safety goggles and face shields and working alongside other sectors to scale up ventilator production.