UK new car registrations grew for the first time since August 2020, according to new data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
The latest figures showed the shift to new technologies is continuing, with plug-in vehicle demand reaching its highest ever volume. Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) took a combined market share of 13.9%, up from 7.3% last year as the number of models available to customers increased from 72 to 116.
Across the market, 29,280 more units were registered during March - a rise of 11.5% - compared to the same month last year. The month represents a year since the first lockdown in March 2020, which saw registrations fall by 44.4%.
In February, the UK new car market declined by 35.5% as 28,282 fewer units were registered.
Registrations of BEVs increased by 88.2% to 22,003 units, while PHEVs rose by 152.2% to 17,330. Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) also rose 42.0% to reach 21,599 registrations.
BEV and PHEV electric cars together accounted for more than one in 10 registrations in 2020 - up from around one in 30 in 2019, amid a turbulent year for the new car market.
The number of EVs on UK roads is expected to exceed that of diesel-powered models by 2030, according to research by The AA.
Compared with the 2010-2019 March average of 450,189, registrations were down -36.9%, with 283,964 units registered. So far, 2021 has seen 58,032 fewer cars registered compared to January to March last year, equivalent to a loss of £1.8 billion in turnover during the first quarter based on the JATO estimated average new car price of £30,729.
With showrooms ready to open next week on April 12, the SMMT said for the sector to return to its pre-pandemic levels, around 8,300 new cars will need to be registered every day for the rest of the year.
By comparison, the industry has averaged around 7,400 a day during the past decade and current levels are closer to 5,600 a day.
While overall registrations were slightly up compared to last year, growth came almost entirely from fleets, which saw a 28.7% increase in registrations. Retail consumer demand remained depressed, falling by -4.1% compared to March 2020 as showrooms remained closed for the duration of the month.
Mike Hawes, SMMT's chief executive, said: “The past year has been the toughest in modern history and the automotive sector has, like many others, been hit hard. However, with showrooms opening in less than a week, there is optimism that consumer confidence – and hence the market – will return.
"We know we will see record breaking growth next month given April 2020 was a washout, but a strong, sustainable market is possible if customers respond to the choice and competitive offers the industry provides within the safest of showroom environments.
“New plug-in models are already helping drive a recovery but to convince more retail consumers to make the switch, they must be assured these new technologies will be convenient for their driving needs and that means, above all, that the charging infrastructure is there where they need it, and when they need it.”
The Government recently announced a £30 million investment to help support research into battery technology, the electric vehicle (EV) supply chain and hydrogen vehicles.
The funding comes ahead of the phasing out of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, as pledged in the Government’s Ten Point Plan.