Electric vehicles drive growth in April registrations

The UK new-car market posted a 21st consecutive month of growth in April, thanks entirely to the performance of electric and hybrid vehicles.

Figures released by the SMMT show April registrations were up by 1% compared to the same month last year. The performance is the best since April 2021, but still 16.6% down on 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

April registrations are often slower than other months, as the market bounce in March, due to the UK plate change, evens out. However, the country came periously close to ending its streak of increases, beginning in August 2022 following the easing of a supply-chain crisis that heavily impacted the automotive industry.

While other European markets suffered drops in March, the UK remained positive thanks to the plate change period. April registrations suggest the country is still the strongest market in Europe at the moment, but only just.

EVs lead the way in April registrations

While much has been made of a drop in electric vehicle (EV) enthusiasm in recent months, it was battery-electric vehicle (BEV) and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) models that helped April registrations creep into positive numbers, while both petrol and diesel powertrains struggled. 

BEVs remained the second most-popular powertrain in the UK, with 22,717 deliveries in April, up by 10.7% year-on-year. This gave them a boost in their market share, which ended April at 16.9%, up from the 15.4% recorded last year. 

PHEVs had the best month of growth, albeit on smaller numbers. They saw 10,493 registrations in April, growth of 22.1%, giving them a market share of 7.8% overall. This meant that the combined EV performance in April registrations saw a 14.1% increase in deliveries compared to the same period last year, with a 24.7% market share.

In comparison, petrol and diesel had a dismal month. While diesel’s decline is not new, and continued into April registrations, with a 25.3% drop to 8,649 units, petrol’s performance was a surprise.

The powertrain has increased its influence on the market in terms of unit numbers over recent months. However, in April, deliveries dropped by 3.1%, although the technology still dominated the market with a 55.8% share. Yet this too was down on last year, where petrol took 58.1% of the market.

This performance meant that internal-combustion engine models, including mild hybrids, dropped 6% in April registrations. Whether this performance is a wobble or highlights the beginning of a trend remains to be seen.

Fleets lead the way again

Continuing the trend seen throughout the year, growth was driven entirely by fleets. April registrations show this sector rose by 18.5% to reach 81,207 units, more than six in 10 of all new cars registered in the month. 

Private buyer uptake fell by 17.7% to 50,458 units, while business registrations declined by 16.1%, to 2,609.

While this looks bad for the overall market, it is good new for the future of the aftermarket. It is more likely that fleet purchases will enter the used-car sector after three years, whereas recent car parc data shows private buyers holding on to their vehicles for longer. 

An influx of models into used-car showrooms means these vehicles are more likely to enter independent workshops, as they have no ties to the franchised dealer network. Therefore, while the UK could do with seeing private uptake increase, fleet deliveries are a positive performance for workshops.

More help is needed

The SMMT states that while the overall increase in BEV demand is positive, urgent action is needed to re-enthuse private buyers into switching. Fewer than one in six new BEVs in April registrations went to consumers, whose uptake volumes fell by 21.9%. 

Drivers today enjoy the widest ever choice of BEV models – more than 100 – powered by the latest technology, and manufacturers continue to provide compelling offers to encourage their uptake. However, the lack of government incentives for private motorists remains a barrier that cannot be overcome by industry alone.

Such actions are crucial as, based on current conditions, the latest market outlook shows a diminishing share for BEVs despite a growing overall new car market. 1.984 million new cars are now anticipated to be registered in 2024, a 4.2% rise on last year, and a 0.5% increase on January’s outlook. 

However, BEV volumes for this year have been revised downwards by 5.2%, with anticipated market share now 19.8%, significantly below the government target of 22% per manufacturer under the Zero-Emission Vehicle Mandate. While the scheme’s flexibilities mean manufacturers can still meet government mandated targets, long term success depends on a growing market built on strong consumer EV demand. 

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