UK Markets closed

UK electric car sales are way behind the rest of Europe

Alanna Petroff
Senior Economics Correspondent at Yahoo Finance UK
Electric car sales in the UK are growing at roughly half the rate seen in Europe. Photo: Andrew Aitchison/Getty Images

Europe is racing past the UK when it comes to electric car sales growth.

Sales grew by about 20% in the UK last year versus the explosive growth of nearly 40% that was seen across the rest of the European Union, according to new figures released Monday by the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT).

The SMMT is blaming the British government for the comparatively slow sales of 100% electric cars and plug-in hybrids, noting that recent limits on plug-in car grants were deeply damaging.

SMMT CEO Mike Hawes said “the pace of growth is falling behind the rest of Europe.”

“If you speak to most manufacturers and [ask], ‘What are the two most important factors in selling these new types of vehicles,’ they’ll say ‘incentives that are available, and [currency] exchange rates’,” he said.

But many incentives were withdrawn in late 2018 and the pound has been losing value for years as Brexit edges nearer, making the UK a less lucrative, attractive market for manufacturers.

RELATED: London’s iconic black cab gets a makeover – take a look inside

The SMMT warned back in October that the government’s plan to scale back electric car incentives would have “far-reaching consequences for consumers, the environment and industry.”

The move is “totally at odds with government ambition to be the world leader in the take up of ultra low emission vehicles,” it said.

The grants were introduced in 2011.

Electric and hybrid car sales still make up a very small portion of overall new car sales in the country: just 2.5%. That’s roughly similar to the market share in the EU.

It’s expected that more than 2.8 million electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles will be sold globally in 2019, according to electric vehicle expert Prajyot Sathe at market research firm Frost & Sullivan. Nearly 70% of those cars will be fully electric vehicles and the rest will be plug-in hybrid versions.

“The electric vehicle market will account for 3% of the total passenger car market. China will continue to lead with over 58% market share, followed by Europe and North America,” he told Yahoo Finance UK.