This post is by Matt Finch, UK policy manager at T&E.
The British car buying public gave the environment a late Christmas present this morning, via an end of year boost to electric vehicle (EV) sales. As reported by the ever excellent New Automotive, just over a third of all vehicles sold last month (December 2022) were fully electric, a massive 52 per cent year on year increase (and petrol sales were down four per cent, whilst diesel sales were down by ten per cent).
A rise has happened each of the last few Decembers, as manufacturers have rushed to deliver electric models to hit CO2 targets, but we’ve never seen a boost this big. It will have implications.
The government is fully committed to a zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate starting in 2024, which is just 361 days away as I write. Although relatively short in political cycle terms, it turns out a year is a very long time in EV uptake terms.
Target proposals are already out of date
The previous iteration of the mandate consultation proposed that manufacturers would have to make at least 22 per cent of their sales electric cars in 2024 (or face penalties), but this was published in early April last year, meaning it was written in January or February. The problem is, the intervening year has seen EV uptake really accelerate, and 22 per cent now looks a bit pathetic.
This is borne out in New Automotive’s additional data. Last month, 16 car brands had over 22 per cent fully electric sales, and a further handful were close (they will all comfortably pass the magic 22 per cent figure this year). And the manufacturer that sold the most cars – whatever the drivetrain – was Tesla.
There is perhaps more interesting data in regional sales figures. EV sales were higher than 22 per cent in Anglia, Berkshire, Birmingham, London, Manchester and Merseyside, the North East, Oxfordshire and the West of England, ie the majority of the country. Amazingly, EV sales were higher than petrol sales in Anglia and Oxfordshire.
Whilst December’s EV sales were exceptional, it reflects a rising trend. The figure was 21 per cent in November and it was above 15 per cent in four other months in 2022. In 2021, there were six individual months when sales were under ten per cent, but there were none below that level last year. There are now over 600,000 EVs on UK roads, and 40 per cent arrived in the past 12 months.
The government should aim for a faster pace of switching
This trend is exciting, but 600,000 is still only two per cent of the total UK car fleet. Switching over to EVs faster is one of the most powerful things we can do to cut our climate impact quickly. The government knows this, which is why it has fully committed to the ZEV mandate.
So what more should the government be doing to speed up this trend? The answer is obvious. It should raise the 2024 target to a level that is much more ambitious, but achievable. NGOs have long said that the 2024 minimum percentage figure should be at least 30 per cent, but in the light of current data that’s looking decidedly underwhelming. Last year T&E recommended 34 per cent, which is definitely achievable but, if the pace of acceleration keeps on, even that may be unambitious soon.
Regardless, if the government sticks with a 22 per cent ZEV mandate target in 2024, the world will know for certain that it’s no longer trying to be a global climate leader.
A small related footnote: Many people in the political realm often conflate UK sales with UK manufacturing. T&E has previously shown that the link between them is relatively small (most cars the UK builds are exported, and most cars we buy are imported), but the New Automotive figures put this in perspective. Last month, JLR, the UK’s largest manufacturer by volume, sold just 1,967 Land and Range Rovers (of which 46 per cent were diesel), and just 733 Jaguars (of which an impressive 35 per cent were fully electric) in the UK. These were just 1.7 per cent and 0.6 per cent of total UK sales respectively. For context, Tesla accounted for 13 per cent of the market.