Sales of new cars in the UK have risen for the fourth month running, with purely electric vehicles accounting for a fifth of the total.
In the best November for the industry since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, almost 143,000 new vehicles were registered.
Sales for the month were 23.5% higher than last year, and although the overall annual figures to date remain marginally below 2021 levels, industry leaders said it showed “recovery was within their grasp”.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said manufacturers were still having to battle an erratic supply of components from around the world, particularly the lack of semiconductor chips, which control vehicles’ electronics.
Registrations for November were still 9% below 2019 numbers and the SMMT said global and domestic economic challenges meant the market would not imminently return to pre-pandemic levels.
More than 29,000 battery electric models were sold – 20% of the total – as were more than 10,000 plug-in hybrid models, meaning both categories accounted for more than one in four (28%) of cars sold.
The SMMT forecasts growth of 15% in 2023 but said the UK needs more targets to speed up the provision of charging infrastructure.
Mike Hawes, the society’s chief executive, said: “Recovery for Britain’s new car market is back within our grasp, energised by electrified vehicles and the sector’s resilience in the face of supply and economic challenges.
“As the sector looks to ensure that growth is sustainable for the long term, urgent measures are required – not least a fair approach to driving EV adoption that recognises these vehicles remain more expensive, and measures to compel investment in a charging network that is built ahead of need. By doing so we can encourage consumer appetite across the country and accelerate the UK’s journey to net zero.”
Dealers warned that the cost of living crisis could be slowing the uptake of cleaner vehicles. Ian Plummer, the commercial director of Auto Trader, said: “Even though sales of electric cars have jumped more than a third in the past year, there are big question marks over how long this will last. Our data shows the cost of living crisis and high electricity prices are turning people away from EVs.”
He said Auto Trader’s figures showed battery EVs accounted for only 19% of its retailers’ sales leads in November “compared with more than a quarter in June”.
Jim Holder, the editorial director of What Car?, said: “It’s now almost certain that this year’s registrations will fall significantly behind last year’s, which marks a serious contraction given lockdowns and other pandemic measures were in place much throughout the first half of 2021.
“While much of that is driven by the impact of the semiconductor shortage, it is of major concern that the cost of living crisis is now looming over the industry and prompting buyers to delay or cancel buying decisions. It will remain to be seen if EV demand slows down.”