The latest official figures reveal that the millionth electric car hit Britain’s roads in Janaury.

Statistics were revelled by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

However, registrations by private buyers fell by a quarter in January, as high costs continue to perturb customers.

And then there is the ongoing issues over the charging infrastructure that is still failing to meet demand with the availability of fast chargers.


This is a ‘major milestone’, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

All-time electric vehicle sales in Britain reached 1,001,677 units by the end of January.

But the figure is soured by the significant slowdown in consumer demand for EVs. Just one in 11 private buyers opt for a battery-powered car last year.

Sizeable fleet registrations really made the headline. Low company car tax rates of just 2%, along with the availability of salary sacrifice schemes through employers have made EVs a popular company car choice..

Businesses are also upgrading their fleets to EVs.

Not big enough

Unfortunately, industry data shows that just 8.8% of private buyers opted for an EV in 2023. Petrol remains the most in-demand new car fuel type among motorists.

Individuals bought 71,984 EVs in 2023 – 23% of the total of 314,687 private purchases last year. But in 2022, they splashed out on 88,910 EVs – 33% of the total.

In contrast, businesses purchased 242,703 electric cars last year, up from 178,294 in 2022. It’s a trend that is continuing.

The latest SMMT figures show that 20,935 electric cars were registered in January – a rise of 21% year on year.However, purchases by private buyers fell by a quarter (25.1%).

Trade body chief executive Mike Hawes previously said the UK was now ‘probably in the bottom half in Europe’ for driver demand for EVs, falling below nations such as France, Germany, Ireland and Portugal.

He attributed this to a lack of incentives in the UK.

Slipping shares

Electric vehicles (BEV in the chart) accounted for 14.7% of the total new car market in January.

The ZEV mandate that came into force at the beginning of the year, requires manufacturers to increase this market share to 22%, else face big fines from the Government.

With this in mind, SMMT expects pure battery electrics to account for more than one in five new cars registered this year.

Hawes has described this as the ‘single most important mechanism to deliver the UK’s net zero commitment’.

This mandate demands  ‘mainstream’ car makers (those that sell more than 1,000 vehicles per year) to sell an increasing share of zero emission models each year.

For 2024, the requirement is 22% of their sales being electric cars. It increases to 28% for 2025, rising to a third (33%) the year after. By 2028, over half (52%) of all sales in Britain need to be EVs, rising to four in five (80%) by the end of the decade, rising each year after until the Government’s outright ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans in 2035.

Failure to adhere to these targets will see manufacturers stung with fines of £15,000 per model below the threshold. However, they may be able to get around this by purchasing ZEV credits from other makers well above the requirement – the likes of Tesla and Polestar.

The new data shows that EVs make up only 14.7%, and almost 8 percentage points below the ZEV mandate threshold for 2024.

More carrots needed

Ian Plummer, commercial director at Auto Trader described the arrival of the millionth EV as ‘a real milestone moment for the market’ but also called for more incentives to boost demand.

He said: ‘Considering the pressure on car manufacturers to meet a 22% electric vehicle sales target under the ZEV mandate this year it’s a good time to be an electric vehicle buyer with some manufacturers offering EV discounts as high as 40%.

‘Electric vehicles may account for one in five sales this year but there is still more ministers can do.

‘Equalising the VAT on private and public charging points would boost running cost savings and encourage more people to make the switch to electric.’

Changing outlooks

Last month, Toyota’s chairman Akio Toyoda declared that electric cars will never dominate the automobile market.

The boss at the world’s second largest car maker said that battery-powered vehicles will only ever capture 30% of the global market. He believes traditional combustion engine cars, hybrids and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will make up the remaining 70%.

Electric cars will never dominate the automobile market, according to the chairman of the world’s biggest car manufacturer Toyota

While Tesla’s Model Y was the best selling new car in Europe in 2023. It is the first time a non combustion engine car topped the sales.

Meanwhile, in the UK, combustion still rules.  Kia’s Sportage SUV topped the model sales charts for January, ahead of 2023’s most popular new car, Ford’s Puma.

Improving industry health?

Figures for January show the total number of new cars registered last month was 8.2% more than in January 2023.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief exec, says the ZEV mandate is the ‘single most important mechanism to deliver net zero commitments’

The Government announced this week that schools in England will be able to apply for grants to buy and install electric vehicle chargers at their premises.

State-funded schools and other learning institutions will have access to a grant providing up to 75% of the cost to install chargers.

The chargers would be available for staff and visitors. However, Department for Transport officials said the scheme could also help schools generate revenue by making the chargers publicly available.

Help needed

SMMT now expects battery electric models’ market share to reduce to 21% in 2024, down from the forecast of 23.3%.

Energy prices, inflation, interest rates and driver angst over the limited availability of public chargepoints has restricted demand. Still, 100,000 more BEVs will still reach the road in 2024 compared with the year prior.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said: “It’s taken just over 20 years to reach our million EV milestone – but with the right policies, we can double down on that success in just another two.”

Hawes urged the government to support private EV buyers by temporarily halving VAT, which he said would “cut carbon, drive economic growth and help everyone make the switch.”

“Manufacturers have been asked to supply the vehicles, we now ask government to help consumers buy the vehicles on which net zero depends.”