Battery and plug-in hybrid electric cars together accounted for more than one in 10 registrations last year – up from around one in 30 in 2019, amid a turbulent year for the new car market.
Overall, the new car market fell by almost a third (29.4%) in 2020, with annual registrations dropping to 1,631,064 units - their lowest level since 1992, according to the latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
Against a backdrop of Covid restrictions, an acceleration of the end of sale date for petrol and diesel cars to 2030 and Brexit uncertainty, the industry suffered a total turnover loss of some £20.4 billion, the SMMT said.
Private vehicle demand fell by 26.6% overall, amounting to a £1.9 billion loss of VAT to the Exchequer.
The year saw also saw 31.1% fewer vehicles joining large company car fleets.
It was, however, a bumper year for battery and plug-in hybrid electric cars.
Demand for battery electric vehicles (BEVs) grew by 185.9% to 108,205 units, while registrations of plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) rose 91.2% to 66,877.
Analysis from the RAC shows that twice as many BEVs were sold last year compared to the year before, and a total of more than 200,000 have been registered since 2010.
December alone saw more zero-emission vehicles registered than ever in a single month (21,914, a fraction higher than September’s figure of 21,903).
Though starting from a lower base, the growth in electric car sales is impressive, the RAC said, 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: “The end to an unexpected and, from the motor industry’s perspective, unwanted 2020, saw record sales of battery-electric vehicles, providing evidence that, from small beginnings, momentum is now gathering pace.
“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.
“The sight of more electric vehicles on our 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.
“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.
“While petrol car registrations will likely recover somewhat in 2021, the question is how many drivers are prepared to switch to an EV at the expense of conventionally fuelled vehicles?
“As the impact of the pandemic continues to be felt the inclination of drivers and businesses to continue acquiring new cars will be critical, as will the effectiveness of dealers in being able to conduct new car sales entirely online during lockdowns.
“But there is surely little doubt that 2021 will shape up to be a very exciting year for the UK’s electric car market.”
More than 100 plug-in car models are now available to UK buyers, and manufacturers are scheduled to bring more than 35 to market this year – more than the number of either petrol or diesel new models planned for the year.