Electric car sales jump in the UK during the Covid-19 crisis

Electric car sales exploded in the UK during Covid-19. Why?

If you didn’t already know, 2019 was a challenging year for the automotive industry. A perfect storm of Brexit, diesel-gate and electrification had been brewing. Then in 2020, Covid-19 struck. But despite the challenging headwinds, there are positive signs of recovery, particularly with electric car sales.

Year to date, UK new car registrations are down -31% in 2020, compared to the previous year. To put that into context, the UK automotive industry generates £78.9 billion in annual turnover and employs over 1 million people.

Why have electric car sales increased during covid-19?

Recent sales of electric vehicles have exploded. Year to date (ending October) SMMT figures show BEV sales (battery-powered electric vehicles) up 168.7% y-o-y, PHEV sales (plug-in hybrid electric vehicles) up 91.5% and HEV sales (hybrid electric vehicles) up 11%.

And it’s not all Tesla either. Across Europe, the most popular plug-in electric vehicle is the Renault Zoe, closely followed by the Tesla Model 3. The Volkswagen e-Golf, Audi e-Tron and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV make up the rest of the top 5 (source: EV volumes).

But what’s the story behind these numbers?

There are four key reasons for the growth of electric car sales.

  • Changes in company car tax – Back in April 2020, changes were made to benefit in kind company car tax. To incentivise the transition to the UK’s carbon-neutral future, zero-emission vehicles will pay no tax in the current fiscal year. As a result, businesses up and down the UK are switching their fleets to electric.
  • Greater choice of electric vehicles – Car manufacturers have responded quickly to changing government regulations. As a result, consumers now have a much greater choice of an electric vehicle to choose from. This improved choice is fuelling consumer demand.
  • Improved vehicle range and nationwide infrastructure – Not only are there more options but the cars themselves are getting better. For years, lack of infrastructure and vehicle range held back electric vehicle take-up. However, newer electric vehicles have significantly improved ranges. Not only that, the recent government rollout of nationwide EV charge points and some innovative partnerships from manufacturers, means there is far more EV infrastructure in the UK. This has made electric vehicles more attractive than ever before.
  • Longer lead times mean electric vehicle sales have been less impacted by Lockdown – Compared to their petrol counterparts, electric vehicles have longer lead times between order and delivery. Many electric vehicles would have been pre-ordered before Lockdown started, minimising their exposure to disruption.

Future car sales performance

Growing electric vehicle sales are here to stay. A view shared by Citroën boss, Vincent Cobee. Speaking at a launch event for the new C4, Cobee said that low-emission vehicles – including plug-in hybrids and EVs – currently make up around 6% of the sales mix at PSA Group, but he expects that figure to rise sharply in a post-Covid world.

According to Cobee, the key factors driving this transition are changing customer attitudes, increasing development of electric infrastructure and new emissions regulations from European governments.

Given the winds of change across the automotive industry, it’s only a matter of time until electric vehicles become the ‘new normal’. For most of us reading this, it’s unlikely we will ever buy another petrol or diesel engine again.

The death of diesel

But the growth of electric vehicles has created declines elsewhere. Petrol sales, and in particular diesel sales, are down by -38.9% and -55.1% respectively. These are huge declines. And with Boris Johnson’s UK government set to announce a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030, it’s clear the days of the combustion engine are limited.

There’s also the matter of a car’s resale value to contend with. Given the average life cycle of new and used cars, and the impending 2030 ‘cut-off’, manufacturers will be keen to minimise their exposure to declining petrol and diesel re-sale values. Expect the petrol and diesel new registration ‘tap’ to be turned off relatively quickly.


After several false dawns, electric vehicles are set to become the mainstay of British roads and motorways. Expect petrol pumps to make way for charge points, and EV sales to continue growing at the expense of petrol and diesel engines for years to come.

The age of the electric vehicle is finally here.

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