UK car parc ages again as ownership declines

The average age of the UK car parc has grown again, as car ownership declined for the second year in a row, the first time this has happened in over a century. 

In total, 40,506,971 vehicles were active in the UK during 2021, an increase of 0.4% on the previous year. Yet the country’s car parc fell 0.2% to 35,023,652 units. Of these vehicles, only a small amount were plug-in powertrains, amounting to 1.8% of the overall vehicle parc.

As a semiconductor crisis took hold throughout the year, impacting vehicle production and supplies, new-car registrations remained broadly static last year, at 1.65 million units. 

Car parc average age on the up

The latest Motorparc figures, released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), show the importance of car ownership in the country is in decline. Although vehicles are more reliable, and therefore there is less requirement to replace them, the change in commuting habits during COVID-19, together with the shortage in supply of new cars, have played a part. 

In addition, the lockdowns of the past two years closed dealerships, meaning consumers were less able to buy new cars, instead choosing to hold on to their vehicles. This has contributed to the average car age reaching a record high of 8.7 years, more than a year older than that a decade ago. This means around 8.4 million cars in the UK are more than 13 years old, having been in service since 2008.

Source: SMMT

This is good news for the aftermarket, meaning there is more chance of vehicles being serviced and repaired, rather than replaced. The current cost-of-living crisis may only increase this need, with servicing likely to be cheaper than buying a new vehicle outright. 

Electric vehicles not yet making an impact

The increase in average vehicle age also suggests people are wary about switching to electric vehicles (EVs). However, registrations of these models, specifically battery-electric vehicles (BEVs), are increasing year on year. 

Nearly three-quarters of a million vehicles in the UK can be plugged in, including 720,053 cars, 26,990 vans, 993 buses and 313 trucks. This represents just 1.8% of the total vehicle parc. There are around 20.5 million petrol, and 13 million diesel cars, making up 58.6% and 37.1% respectively, a combined total of 95.7%. Just 2.1% of cars are BEV or plug-in hybrid (PHEV), with the remaining 2.2% made up of hybrids. 

Source: SMMT

‘Britain’s switch to electric vehicles continues to gather pace, with a record one in five new car registrations now plug-ins,’ commented SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes. ‘However, they still represent around one in 50 cars on the road, so there is significant ground to cover if we are to fully decarbonise road transport at pace.’

‘The first consecutive annual fall in vehicle numbers in more than a century shows how significantly the pandemic has impacted the industry, leading Britons to hold onto their cars for longer. With fleet renewal essential to net-zero, we must build consumer confidence in the economy and, for drivers, confidence in the charging infrastructure to get the transition into top gear.’

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