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UK hits 1 million electric car milestone

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There are now more than one million electric cars on UK roads, trade body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has confirmed.

The milestone was announced as part of the January 2024 new car registrations, where almost 21,000 new electric cars hit UK roads.

However, the SMMT is warning that much-needed momentum in EV uptake is starting to slow, due to a fall in the number of private buyers choosing a new electric car.

Fleet car sales, in contrast, grew more than 40% in January 2024, helped by beneficial company car tax rules.

The UK remains the only major European country not to offer any incentives for private motorists buying an electric car. Read our guide to the latest electric car stats to find out more. 

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How significant is the 1 million electric car milestone?

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

Commenting on how market growth is currently dependent on businesses and fleets, he urged the government to use the upcoming Budget to support private EV buyers.

The SMMT suggests a temporary halving in VAT for electric cars, to 10%, 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.”

The SMMT expects around 100,000 more electric cars to hit the road in 2024 without any incentives. “This volume would increase even further if a VAT reduction on EVs was introduced.”

What were the best-selling cars in January 2024?

The Kia Sportage emerged as the best-selling car in January 2024. It just squeezed ahead of last year’s best-selling new car overall, the Ford Puma, with the Nissan Qashqai in third.

The top three were well clear of the rest, with the MG HS in fourth and the BMW 1 Series in firth.

Rounding out the top 10 were MINI, the Audi A3, Volkswagen Golf, Nissan Juke and Hyundai Tucson.

January 2024’s new car sales were also the highest since pre-pandemic 2019, as the car industry continues to recover.

The SMMT has therefore upped its forecast for 2024 new car sales, to 1.974 million units. This is 4000 cars up on its last forecast in October 2023. 

It has also, however, cut its forecasts for electric car sales. A year ago, it anticipated an EV new car mix of 23.3% this year.

It’s now reduced this to 21% – which, notably, is below the 22% ZEV Mandate target car manufacturers are required to meet in 2024.  

In January 2024, more than 90,000 cars were sold to fleets, representing over 63% of the market. Add in business car sales, and companies accounted for nearly two in three new car sales last month. Private sales, in contrast, were down nearly 16% year-on-year, to just over 50k.

The decline of diesel continues. In January 2024, it accounted for just 6.5% of new car sales, compared to 7.9% in 2023. More than twice as many electric cars were sold in the same month.

The SMMT says that halving VAT on new electric car sales would cost the Treasury an average of £1125 per car – less than the cost of the previous Plug-in Car Grant, and enough to put more than 250,000 extra new EVS on the road by 2026.

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