Peak car: is private car ownership on the wane?

Published: 31 May 2022 Updated: 31 May 2022

► Car ownership falls for two years in a row
► First consecutive drop in a century
► Pandemic means we’re swapping cars less

New research suggests that Britain may be hitting peak car, as the level of car ownership fell for two consecutive years after the pandemic – the first successive drops in ownership in more than a century.

The last time ownership fell in consecutive years was during the First World War.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the industry body that collates facts and stats on vehicle usage, revealed that car ownership fell by 0.2% to 35,023,652 in 2021 as many consumers were unable to buy a new model owing to supply issues hampering manufacturers across the world.

The hangover from the Covid-19 pandemic is still affecting many companies and it’s forcing the British public to hang on to their cars for longer: the average car is now 8.7 years old, more than a year older than a decade ago, and many urban dwellers are not even bothering to own a car at all.

How old are Britain's cars?

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said: ‘The first consecutive annual fall in vehicle numbers in more than a century shows how significantly the pandemic has impacted the industry, leading Britons to hold onto their cars for longer. With fleet renewal essential to net zero, we must build consumer confidence in the economy and, for drivers, confidence in the charging infrastructure to get the transition into top gear.’

The UK is buying fewer cars – but we’re also, gradually, switching to EVs

In more positive news, the SMMT revealed that there are now three quarters of a million electric vehicles (EVs) on British roads:

  • 720,053 electric cars
  • 26,990 electric vans
  • 993 electric buses
  • 313 electric trucks

Although an impressive number, vehicles that can be plugged in account for only one in 50 vehicles on the road – and there’s significant regional variation, too. A third of all plug-in cars are registered in London and the south east.

The SMMT’s Motorpark survey reveals the full extent of what’s what on the UK’s road network. The Ford Fiesta might’ve been dislodged from its monthly bestseller spot, but it’s still the most common vehicle and exactly two-thirds of all cars here still have a manual transmission.

The most common cars on British roads

By Tim Pollard

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