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September saw the second highest month of electric vehicle (EV) registrations on record yet they are still falling well short of binding targets forced on car makers by the Government from next year. 

Some 45,323 new EVs entered UK roads last month, which saw battery cars take a 16.6 per cent stake of all registrations in September.

However, demand for EVs is still primarily being driven by fleet registrations while private sales have gone into reverse, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders says.

The market share of EVs in September also remains a long way off the binding targets set to be placed on manufacturers from next year, which will see the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Mandate require mainstream brands to increase their share of EVs sales to 22 per cent in 2024 – or face heavy fines.  

A record month for EVs – but sales are still short of binding targets: September saw the second-highest volume of new EVs registered in the UK

New car sales in total grew by a healthy 21 per cent last month with 272,610 passenger vehicles entering the road in September, official figures confirm.

Traditionally a bumper month for car registrations due to the arrival of a new registration number, September marked a 14th consecutive month of growth for the UK’s automotive sector and saw the second highest monthly sales of motors in 2023 so far.

Yet the SMMT points out that sales remain 20.6 per cent down on pre-pandemic September 2019 figures. 

New car sales as a whole last month rose by 21% year-on-year. However, the market remains well behind pre-Covid levels

EV sales remain well behind binding mandate requirements

For EVs, it was a 41st consecutive month of sales growth, with registrations up 18.9 per cent year-on-year.

September’s figures are the first published since Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed he has pushed back the deadline for the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035, delaying the nation’s switch to EVs. 

But despite EV sales reaching their monthly second highest volumes, the trade body says the increase was ‘driven entirely by fleet purchases’ as consumers continue to shun battery-powered cars.

EV fleet registrations rose by 50.6 per cent in September, while sales to private buyers plunged by 14.3 per cent.

It means less than one in 10 private car buyers opted for an electric model last month.

The ZEV mandate introduced in January will require 22% of all new car sales by each brand to be electric. However, in a bumper September, just 16.6% of registrations were EV – and in 2023 as a whole the breakdown is just 16.4%

The Government confirmed its binding targets for car makers to increase their share of EV sales from next year. In 2024, some 22% will need to be Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs), by 2028 it will increase to half and by 2030 rise to 80%

Such a decline underlines the importance of providing these motorists with purchase incentives and other mechanisms to stimulate demand,’ the SMMT said, as it warned the UK faces the ‘most challenging’ transition timeline set out by the ZEV mandate.

The recently published mandate requires ZEVs to comprise 22 per cent of each manufacturer’s new registrations in 2024, 50 per cent within five years, and 80 per cent by 2030. 

Failure to meet the targets will result in hefty financial penalties imposed by the Government, amounting to £15,000 for each non-compliant car. 

For vans, manufacturers will face a £9,000 penalty per vehicle in the first year, with this figure rising to £18,000 throughout the remainder of the mandate. 

In order to meet these targets, it is pivotal for private buyers to make the switch and purchase more EVs, along with business and fleet customers. 

However, unlike in the other major markets working towards a 2035 end of sale date, UK private motorists have no purchase incentive to encourage them to invest in electric mobility.

With new EV prices still at a significant premium, residual values of battery cars plummeting and ongoing concerns about the lack of charging infrastructure and range anxiety, car makers face an uphill task to meet the mandate’s binding requirements.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said the ‘tougher EV targets for manufacturers’ means a desperate need to ‘accelerate the transition, encouraging all motorists to make the switch’. 

He went on: ‘This means adding carrots to the stick – creating private purchase incentives aligned with business benefits, equalising on-street charging VAT with off-street domestic rates and mandating chargepoint rollout in line with how electric vehicle sales are now to be dictated. 

‘The forthcoming Autumn Statement is the perfect opportunity to create the conditions that will deliver the zero emission mobility essential to our shared net zero ambition.’

What Car? editor Steve Huntingford, said: ‘The announcement that the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel cars would be postponed came too late to affect the September sales figures. However, it will be interesting to see if EV sales fall in the coming months.

‘Our own research shows that when the 2030 ban was announced three years ago, fewer than 3 per cent of people bought EVs as a direct result. But pushing back the date certainly isn’t going to encourage more people to go electric in the short-term.’

Huntingford says the introduction of next year’s ZEV mandate will force brands to discount their EV prices to attract new customers.

Industry commentators have called for ministers to launch more EV incentives to persuade drivers to make the switch. And car makers will soon face pressure to discount their prices to evade fines of £15,000 per model for each unit sold below the ZEV mandate threshold 

Ian Plummer, commercial director of Auto Trader, says some car makers are already offering a number of good deals on EVs, which have proven to show that many drivers will switch to EVs when the price is right.

‘But with year-to-date figures showing that about 16 per cent of the overall market is now electrified, the big question is how some players in the industry reach 22 per cent by the end of next year under the new ZEV sales mandate,’ he added. 

‘Many face a difficult choice between selling fewer petrol and diesel vehicles, paying hefty fines, or buying credits from all-electric new market entrants such as BYD, Tesla and Polestar. 

‘To square that circle, we could see prices come down to encourage consumer demand further.’

ZEV mandate targets by year

2024: 22% new car sales electric

2025: 28% 

2026: 33% 

2027: 38% 

2028: 52% 

2029: 66% 

2030: 80% 

2031: 84% 

2032: 88% 

2033: 92% 

2034: 96% 

2035: 100% 

Source: DfT 

Richard Peberdy, UK head of automotive for KPMG, said: ‘More competition and lower pricing is key to increasing EV adoption.

‘Availability of charging points on residential streets remains a major barrier to transition to EVs for the many people who don’t have off-street parking. 

‘And ensuring that on-street chargepoint numbers increase is also key to the UK meeting the 22 per cent ZEV target next year.’

Deloitte says its upcoming Consumer Tracker report will show that only 27 per cent of consumers would consider purchasing a new or used EV as their next car. 

However, appetite for EVs is greater among those with the facilities to charge them at home. 

‘Amongst consumers who either already have access to a private charging point, or have access to off street parking, suitable for the installation of a charging point, 40 per cent would consider purchasing a EV as their next vehicle,’ explained Jamie Hamilton, its automotive partner and head of EVs.

The biggest-selling car last month across all fuel types was the British built Nissan Qashqai with 8,565 entering the road – which was also last year’s most bought new model.

It was followed closely by Ford’s Puma with 8,087 registrations, which keeps the compact crossover at the top of the 2023 sales charts as a whole. 

Tesla’s Model Y remains the most in-demand EV, with 28,177 delivered to UK customers so far this year.

The biggest seller last month across all fuel types was the British built Nissan Qashqai (left) with 8,565 entering the road. It was followed closely by Ford’s Puma (right) with 8,087 registrations

Tesla’s Model Y remains the most in-demand EV, with 28,177 delivered to UK customers so far this year

The 10 best sellers of September are listed on the left, while the top 10 on the right is the rankings of the most popular models in the first 9 months of the year

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