Number of cars on UK roads surpasses 40 million for first time

Published: 21 April 2020 Updated: 21 April 2020

 How many cars are on UK roads?
 New record surpassed: over 40m
 Official SMMT data released in 2020

It might be a fiendishly tricky pub quiz question: how many cars are there on UK roads? Well, the answer now spirals past a significant threshold, as the number has surpassed 40 million for the first time.

The total official figure now stands at 40.4m cars, vans, trucks and buses, up 1.0% on the previous year. Yes, if you need to argue with the quizmaster, that volume includes all motor vehicles, not just cars, registered for road use. There are even 18,250 ambulances in there.

Most of the vehicles registered are indeed cars: more than 35m of them, according to the Motorparc survey by industry body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), which compiles the data. But there are 5m trucks and vans, the fastest-growing category.

Prepare for some number-crunching…

Which car bodystyle is most popular in the UK?

Britain is a nation that loves a good supermini and this is borne out in the official numbers: the Ford Fiesta has been the bestselling vehicle for as long as we can remember, a small hatch is the typical first car and crowded streets mean a compact car makes more and more sense.

Bodystyle Number on UK roads
Supermini (Fiesta) 11,643,272
Small hatch (Astra) 9,291,604
SUV (eg Qashqai) 4,335,230
Large family car (Passat) 3,855,987
MPV (Scenic) 1,816,700

It’s good to see the MPV hanging on in there; although sales have switched from people carriers to more modish SUVs, there are still nearly 2m ‘multi-purpose vehicles’ on our roads (although that number is declining rapidly).

Unsurprisingly, the car parc is distributed quite evenly around the UK, with the most in the south-east (nearly six million), but the south-west, north-west, West Midlands and east of England all had more than 3m cars on their roads.

All regions saw a growth in car ownership, expect Greater London (-0.3%) and the West Midlands (-0.7%). Have urbanites in these areas reached peak car? The data suggests so…

And which colour cars are most popular?

The colour of every vehicle on British roads is recorded on its registration document, or V5C. Which is why the SMMT is able to calculate the most popular paint choices of all cars in the UK:

Colour of car How many on UK roads
1) Black 7,116,047
2) Silver 6,382,513
3) Blue 6,073,960
4) Grey 5,208,559
5) White 4,558,998

It’s a fascinating snapshot of UK roads. And if you want to delve into the most popular cars of the last 12 months, check out our sales analysis of 2019 new car data here.

By Tim Pollard

Group digital editorial director, car news magnet, crafter of words