CEO Update

Britain’s new and used car markets continue recovery

10 May 2024 #CEO Update

New car registrations grew in April for the 21st month in a row, SMMT’s latest figures show, with strong demand even in the quieter months raising optimism for the year as a whole. The growth, following the trend of recent months, was driven by fleets, even more resoundingly so for new battery electric vehicle (BEV) uptake, with business buyers responsible for five in six registrations. It reflects the ‘encouragement gap’ that exists for the private motorist, who must consider switching without the fiscal benefits that businesses enjoy – while public charging infrastructure remains below the levels needed to win over mainstream confidence.

Manufacturers have invested billions to bring a huge range of competitive BEVs to the UK market – now exceeding 100 models along with attractive deals for consumers – but industry alone can’t fund Britain’s mass transition within its world-leading timeline. Such ambition requires equally bold policymaking that puts the motorist front and centre. Halving VAT on BEV purchases and treating EVs as fiscally mainstream not luxury vehicles under the new VED regime would do just that – and send the message that the time to switch is now.

Britain’s infrastructure challenge is also acute in the new van market, which expanded for the 16th consecutive month in April yet saw BEV volumes drop by -41.2% compared with an uptick last year. Commercial viability for greener fleet operations is key and while it’s vital that the Plug-in Van Grant continues to provide a lifeline of encouragement, public chargepoint rollout remains a huge barrier. That’s particularly true for operators of the largest van models – currently representing two thirds of the overall market – with BEV alternatives not guaranteed to be suitable for existing car-focused infrastructure. A nationally planned, locally delivered strategy to meet the greater size and power requirements of vans is urgently needed.

Market growth for new vehicles of all types and sizes is also important to offer choice and affordability to second-hand buyers, and SMMT’s latest used car sales data, also published this week, shows just that. Overall transactions reached a five-year high in the first quarter of 2024, boosted by motorists embracing electric models – with demand rising by 71% to more than one in 48 of all used cars changing hands. It makes battery electric the fastest growing used powertrain and long may that continue, because entirely zero emission new and second-hand vehicle markets are the ultimate horizon for road decarbonisation. Getting there, however, requires bolder commitments today.

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