Electric car sales slide after government cuts grant for buyers

·4 min read
A worker assembles VW ID.3 electric cars at the Volkswagen factory in Zwickau, Germany - Getty Images
A worker assembles VW ID.3 electric cars at the Volkswagen factory in Zwickau, Germany - Getty Images

Electric car sales have slumped to their lowest levels in eight months compared to new petrol and diesel vehicles after the Government cuts grant for new buyers.

Car registrations figures for April showed battery electric vehicles made up just 6.5 percent of new purchases, down from a high of 16.5 percent in December.

The decline comes after the subsidy motorists can claim to buy an electric car was slashed from £3,000 to £2,500 in March, following high demand from drivers looking to make the switch.

Drivers currently are being encouraged by ministers to convert to purely electric vehicles ahead of the coming ban on the sale of new petrol on diesel cars in 2030.

However, the uptake of new electric vehicles, while growing steadily, remains relatively slow with the RAC saying there are around only 80,000 privately-owned purely battery-powered cars on the roads out of a total of around 32 million vehicles.

The figures published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) on Wednesday showed that of the 141,583 new vehicles bought in April 9,152 were battery electric cars.

While last month’s electric car sales were a more than 500 percent increase on the 1,374 sold last April, when dealerships were closed due to lockdown, it represented the lowest percentage of overall sales since August.

April’s percentage of electric car sales are also down on the average for 2021 so far, which has been 7.5 percent.

The SMMT said the slump meant purchases of new plug-in hybrids cars, the sale of which is also due to be banned in 2035, outsripped purely battery vehicles last month.

A spokesman said: “Unusually, plug-in hybrids, at 6.8 percent of the market, were more popular than battery electric vehicles at 6.5 percent, following cuts to the Plug-in Car Grant.”

The SMMT said it is now downgrading its forecasts for overall electric car sales for 2021 from 9.3 percent of all purchases to 8.9 percent.

As well as the cut in the maximum grant drivers can claim for new electric vehicles, the Department for Transport also reduced the maximum price of vehicles it can be used for from £50,000 to £30,000. This means many of the most popular models are not eligible, such as the Tesla Model 3, which starts from around £40,000.

However, ministers argued the overall funding for new electric vehicle grants has not changed, just that the money is now being targeted at lower cost cars to make purchases more affordable for the average driver.

The Government has pledged an overall package of £2.8 billion to accelerate the take-up of electric cars, which includes £350 grants for drivers to install charging points at home.

On Wednesday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps hailed the progress being made on electric car sales saying that around 500,000 had been sold in the UK in total, including fleet vehicles.

The cabinet minister, who himself drives a Tesla Model 3, extolled the virtues of switching to electric by saying they were much cheaper to run than conventional cars.

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In a Twitter video, he said: “In only eight and a half years everyone will have to be driving electric and now is a great time to start.

Mr Shapps added: “They are very, very inexpensive to run because it would take me probably only £7 to drive from London to Manchester in an electric vehicle.”

The Transport Secretary also moved to dispel concerns over ‘range anxiety’ - the fear that electric cars can run out of charge faster than conventional cars - which has been one of the main stumbling blocks to motorists switching over.

“Range anxiety is largely a concern people have but actually the reality is the average journey in this country is 8.3 miles and most of these cars do a couple of hundred miles [on a charge], these modern ones,” said Mr Shapps.