New car sales plummet but electric cars buck the trend

 

  • In March 2020, 197% more electric cars were sold compared to March 2019.
  • An electric car would still take more than four years to pay for itself without the Plug-in Car Grant.
  • But electric motorists could pay for the government’s hospital building programme twice over with the money they’ve all saved on running costs.

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New Car Sales For March

New car sales for March were down 44% on last year, due to the impact of Covid-19, but sales of new electric cars specifically swelled by an astonishing 197%.

This is despite the fact that it could take more than four years to pay off the price difference compared to the equivalent petrol model when the £3,000 government Plug-in Car Grant ends.

The government slashed a further £500 off the grant for buyers of new electric cars in the March budget, prompting speculation on when it will disappear entirely. 

Reaserach by car specialist AMT suggests that, aside from the environmental considerations of switching away from fossil fuels to power cars, the dramatic reduction in running costs for EVs appears to be the primary draw.

By the end of 2019, there were 237,850 purely electric cars on the UK’s roads. Collectively over 12 months, AMT estimates they saved £199,794,000 – enough to pay for the government’s hospital building commitment from September twice over.

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Electric

That year saw 37,850 new electric cars registered – a rise of 144% on 2018. However, the increase in major cities is much greater.

London remains the most popular city for electric cars, with 3,308 being bought there in 2019, encouraged by schemes like the Congestion Charge and Ultra-Low Emission Zone.

Outside of the capital, Birmingham is embracing the fully electric car faster than anywhere else in the UK. Despite having a population less than seven times the size and no restriction zones for private cars, drivers there bought 2,312 in 2019 – a 517% increase in EV registrations from 2018.

That means Birmingham is the city experiencing the fastest expansion of electric car ownership in the UK.

In terms of outright number of EVs bought last year, Birmingham is followed by Leeds with 674 registrations.

AMT compared the purchase and running costs of two equivalent models – the most basic petrol-powered BMW 3 Series (a 318i) and an electric BMW i3:

BMW i3BMW 318ii3 price differenceTime to offset
RRP£35,120£31,460£3,6604 years, 5 months
RRP less grant£32,120£31,460£66010 months
Running costs*£8,040£8,880-£840

* = 1 year, 12,000 miles.

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Plug-in Car Grant Ending

If EV prices remain the same when the £3,000 Plug-in Car Grant does eventually end, it would take almost four-and-a-half years to offset the price difference with the cheaper running costs – longer than many owners keep a new car.

Ian Wright, general manager of AMT, said: “This soaring popularity of electric cars is happening only after years of pondering by carmakers and successive governments. Yes, the environmental factors are weighing heavier on drivers’ consciences, but I believe it’s largely down to a sudden and huge boost in the choice of EVs.

“Not very long ago, electric cars were still a bit of a joke, designed to appeal only to specific enthusiasts. Now, most mainstream manufacturers either offer a purely electric version of an existing model or are developing one – driven by the looming 2035 ban on petrol and diesel cars.

“The advances in the charging network for EVs over even just the past couple of years have also played a huge part. Regardless of how many miles of range a car has, people want the reassurance of knowing that they will be able to charge up at short notice should they need to. That’s only just becoming realistically possible.”

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