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UK electric car sales on the rise, but price still a barrier: RAC

Highlights

EV adoption coming from low base: RAC

Charging infrastructure a concern: SMMT

London — Electric vehicle sales in the UK continue to go from strength to strength, giving adoption a bullish narrative, but price remains a real barrier to entry for many, according to data highlighted by driving services group RAC.

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RAC said that, although starting from a low base, "the growth in electric car sales is impressive, with 6.6% of all new vehicles registered in 2020 being zero-emission, up from just 1.6% in 2019 and 0.7% in 2018. This means that getting on for a fifth of all cars registered last year (17.5%) were zero-emissions capable – up from just 7.4% in 2019."

RAC data insight spokesman Rod Dennis said: "Issues around charging infrastructure aside, it's the cold hard economics of buying or leasing a car that might yet hold them back with pure electric cars continuing to command a premium list price over their petrol and diesel equivalents."

RAC was citing figures published Jan. 6 by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders showing that the UK new car market fell by 29.4% last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with annual registrations dropping to 1,631,064 units. However, demand for battery electric vehicles grew by 185.9% to 108,205 units, while registrations of plug-in hybrids rose 91.2% to 66,877 units.

"Encouragingly, there is room for further growth as most of these registrations (68%) were for company cars, indicating that private buyers need stronger incentives to make the switch, as well as more investment in charging infrastructure, especially public on-street charging," SMMT said.

More than 100 plug-in car models are now available to UK buyers, and manufacturers are scheduled to bring more than 35 to market in 2021 -- more than the number of either petrol or diesel new models planned for the year, the group noted.

Long way to go

He added that there's a long way to go, "with only a tiny fraction of the total 31.2 million cars on the UK's roads fully zero-emission, but the direction is becoming clear."

There is a clear buzz around the increase in EV adoption, although some people remain hesitant.

"The numbers are so marginal, and the noise around the story so loud. Look at the Tesla share price, the company dwarves traditional autos, and only produced around 500,000 units in 2020. It's mind boggling," said one trader.

Still, RAC's Dennis said that the mere sight of more EVs on roads, "many sporting number plates with the new 'trademark' green flash, might begin to make drivers who are considering changing their car look into whether 'going electric' makes sense for them."

"There is surely little doubt that 2021 will shape up to be a very exciting year for the UK's electric car market," he added.